Taxes, welfare, Black Friday, KISS

Indo col week 30

I quite like paying taxes. This is partly because, as a low earner, I don’t pay a lot of tax. However, it is also because I have been so well supported by the State over the course of my life. In my 20s, I went from work to the dole to the back to education allowance, which – along with third-level grants – saw me through to masters level. When I took redundancy three years ago, I got a similar level of dole payment to what I had been earning for a 37-hour week, as well as full medical cards for my family and I. After eight long months I was fortunate enough to get a job, but even then the State supported me, via the Family Income Supplement (FIS). We recently got a statement from the Department of Social Protection on how much we were paid in FIS last year  – more than 12,000. This is because we were a single income household with a low wage and considerably more children than we can afford. I can give you various reasons for the excessive amount of human life I have co-created, but overall I would say that economics rarely features in the romantically engorged mind. Except maybe in David McWilliams’s mind, he seems to really, really like economics.

 

So I pay tax, and I get support in return. From my point of view, Ireland is a good country to live and work in. I’m always slightly bemused by the various Robespierres of the hard left, talking about Ireland as though we were currently trapped in a live re-enactment of Swift’s Modest Proposal. There are things that need to change here – a quick flick through the pages of this paper will give you a dozen or more good examples – but overall I would say that I love living here, and I love my country, not in some chest-thumping, nationalist fashion, but rather in a pay-my-taxes, clean-up-after-myself way. That said, I’d always be open to finding a solid tax efficiency – or loophole as they are more commonly known.

 

The furore over firms using offshore structures to increase their profits and reduce their taxes isn’t all that different from me claiming credits for waste disposal or pet ownership or just about anything I can legally use. But I felt great sympathy for poor Bono, who gets the most stick for this, as though he should give all his money to Revenue and go live in a wheelie bin to be true to either his beliefs, his lyrics or his attempts to make the world a better place through whatever charity it is he has been going on about recently. At this time of year especially I think of poor Bono, getting dogs abuse for being a tax exile, albeit a charismatic one. It must suck to be rich sometimes. So tonight, as I do every night at this time of year, I thank god that it’s Bono who is the multi-millionaire tax-exile hate figure, instead of me.

 

Obviously all this gauche talk of money or my lack thereof is leading to the pleasing announcement that I no longer qualify for FIS as I landed myself with a second job (it’s this, my role as opinionista). This means I will now pay more tax – hooray! – and also will get less support from the State. I’m delighted. Obviously, I’m still not quite at the level of earnings of Bono, but I can at least now buy the odd treat without feeling like I am tightening the Primark corset of the ‘squeezed middle’. There is a great joy in spending money you have worked hard to earn. Except of course on Black Friday, when there is no joy in spending money at all.

 

I’m sure there are upsides to globalisation – having a Starbucks/Subway/Costa on every street corner, or our kids talking about sidewalks and gas stations – but Black Friday is not one of them. This is especially true of our watered-down version of it. While the Americans get to have the real fun, stamping each other to death and shooting assault rifles into the air as they try to buy a six metre wide TV for a fiver, over here it is just a big sad rip-off. This is partly due to the fact that the US is a low tax economy – anyone bleating about how much cheaper things are in the States might want to try getting sick there, or losing their job there, before they start seeing it was some economic utopia.

Yet somehow we have decided that Black Friday is something worth adopting, despite the obvious disparity between our economies. UK consumer group Which? Has pointed out that more than half of the deals offered in the UK on Black Friday last year were cheaper or the same price at other times of the year. It is no different here, but we get swept along in the hype, acting as though 15% off electronic items is worth queueing up for. It seems only a matter of time until we adopt Thanksgiving itself, holding a celebration of the arrival of the Normans in 1167 and all the awful things they gave us, such as feudalism and Dublin.  

If you need a good example of how different we are from Americans, just spend a few minutes watching Fox. It’s like the TV station in The Hunger Games, if it were hosted by an animatronic Adam Smith and Libertarian Barbie. You would imagine it would take a lot to get banned from the station, given the Rolodex of the criminally insane it uses to keep its couches warm. Step forward Gene Simmons: The KISS frontman, best known for having an oversized tongue and some terrible opinions about women, was on Fox to promote his new book, which comes with the snappy title On Power: My Journey Through the Corridors of Power and How You Can Get More Power. The book, which gives expert tips on how to be more like Simmons – ie, ‘powerful’ – is actually a follow-up to the equally snappily titled Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business.

After his interview on Fox Business, he burst into a Fox News meeting, shouted ‘hey chicks, sue me!’ and mercifully only exposed his chest and navel. He also took the opportunity to thump two people on the head with his book, which is probably as close it will ever get to actually stimulating a human brain. Sadly, Simmons is now banned for life from the station, which means he has one less platform for his various lessons on economics, which, unsurprisingly, are largely centred on how rich people like him shouldn’t have to pay tax to support ‘the welfare state’. So if you needed one more reason to feel pride in being a taxpayer, it is that it makes you that little bit less like Gene Simmons.

The Weekly Bill

So I am now an Irish Independent columnist, which is great as I think the whole world needs to listen to what I have to say right fucking now. This is my first lash at it, which ran in last week’s paper. It is a series of Christmas cracker jokes disguised as a news digest/OpEd from hell. Enjoy!

 

It seems hard to believe that Brexit, AKA The Great British Bunk-Off, is still rumbling towards its inevitable unpleasantness. The meal at 10 Downing Street between Juncker and May, held to thrash out some of the more awful possibilities of Liminal Britain’s Series Of Unfortunate Events, sounded like a moody teen telling their parents that they were moving out of home and thus would need 60k pocket money a week and full access to the fridge and WiFi. All the occasion was short was Theresa May turning into Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters, fashioning a sculpture of the white cliffs of Dover out of mashed potato, whispering ‘strong and stable’ over and over while her alarmed dinner guests exchange concerned looks with each other. A full account of the feast of awfulness was carried in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ), fitting given that many read it whilst enjoying a feeling best encapsulated by a very German word – Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude was the word of the week, after the disaster of Fyre Festival, an exclusive event on a private Bahamian island that collapsed into disaster for its wealthy, exclusive clientele. Like Cinderella after midnight, their luxury cabanas turned out to be disaster relief tents, while the culinary delights they were promised transformed into a salad leaf and what might have been bread. Pop punk deities Blink 182, who are apparently still going, cancelled their headline slot outright. It brought to mind a festival disaster I attended in the late Eighties. Lured with the prospect of a once in a lifetime experience to the exotic location of Medjugorje, I was startled to find our luxury accommodation featured blocked toilets and en suite snakes,  while the headline act, The Virgin Mary, failed to show up at all. The whole debacle was so embarrassing for host nation Yugoslavia that they broke up a year later. Mind you, it wasn’t as disappointing as Electric Picnic 2006, when I went along to enjoy The Rapture, only to discover that it wasn’t the ascent into heaven of true believers and purging of the sinners, but rather a band of the same name. And apparently, this wasn’t grounds for a refund.

Confusion over titles also brought some much needed levity to our criminal justice system, when a jury selection was held up by a barista being mistaken for a barrister. It was the sort of whimsical nugget served up at the end of the news bulletin, like petit fours after the main course of war, famine and plague. In fact, it was exactly the sort of light hearted japery that usually adorns café chalkboards. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the barista tasked with coming up with these daily quips. Being paid a mortgage-defying wage to rise at 5am to make frappucinos for depressed millennials, whimsy must be a foreign land to the average barista. Yet they persevere, scratching out witty messages about hamsters being mixed up with hipsters, trying to convey the warmth and humour of their establishment in just a few short words, as like barristers, they become experts in reducing sentences.

Bealtaine finally arrived on Monday, the ancient pagan feast marking the start of summer. Celebrated in some areas with bonfires – usually depending on how much green waste there is lying about the garden – it is a reminder of our pagan past. The past of the Pagan Federation Of Ireland was also resuscitated recently, when a viral post of theirs resurfaced on Twitter. Responding to a request that they provide an American odinist couple with an officiant who did not perform same-sex or mixed-race handfastings, they politely declined before closing with the ancient celtic farewell of ‘f**k off’. It made you think that maybe we should give the pagans another shot – would it be so bad to hand over the running of a few hospitals to them? Who wouldn’t want a flatlining loved one being tended to by Gandalf, bellowing ‘you shall not pass’ as he warms up the defibrillator? Of course the greatest bonus to getting them to run the hospitals is that it would end all fears about nursing numbers, as druids always come with a very large staff.

Dad shaming

So the Indo asked me to write a piece on RTE’s sports reporter Des Cahill – Ireland’s most likable journalist – and his star turn on Dancing With The Stars. I don’t watch TV, nor do I have any interest in of knowledge of sport, but I do have a passion for paid work, so here we go: 

In the late Eighties, the Voyager I spacecraft had completed its tour of our solar system and was about to leave it forever for the vast emptiness of outer space. At a distance of about 6 billion kilometers from Earth, the NASA team controlling it from Earth gave an order for it to take a photo of its home planet before it disappeared from sight. The resulting image, taken on Valentine’s Day 1990, became known as the Pale Blue Dot. It inspired Carl Sagan – one of the team who gave the order to capture the iconic image – to write a message of hope under the same title, pointing out that in the great void of space, perhaps we should all learn to get along a little bit better on this pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.

Our own opportunities for philosophical stargazing these days are limited by street lights, hoodies, Ireland’s cloud onesie, and that digital heroin, our phones. So thank the stars for Dancing With The Stars, and – specifically – the celestial Des Cahill. In a panorama of twinkling little twinkle-toed stars, Des is like Jupiter – a solid physical presence that makes all others seem like gaseous clouds, or possibly heavily-tanned asteroids.

His reassuringly physical form sweeps into our skies once a week to delight and enthrall us with his slightly elliptical and erratic orbit around Karen Byrne. Des’s performances have scientifically proved, once and for all, that the dadbod is the most desirable (and apparently aerodynamic) physique for the modern man. But this isn’t something that happens overnight – it takes decades of training.

Being a sports journalist, Des would have been at an early advantage, having attended many GAA supper dances in his career. Like the rustic, horse-dealing half-brother of a dinner dance, the supper dance is ideal for laying the groundwork for the dadbod, featuring in its late stages a motion that may be mistaken for dancing, but more importantly, a healthy dose of fried chicken and chips served in a tinfoil box.

If a big occasion is being celebrated such as a Junior B final being won, then some Asian fusion may be added via the addition of a large ladleful of curry sauce, most of which will end up on the ground, to ensure a rigorous movement of the legs and thorough stretching of the groin muscles. How else could Des have prepared for last Sunday’s salsa, which saw him nail The Dessie Swim – a more relaxed version of The Worm that saw him dragging his velour-clad posterior across the floor whilst being straddled by his dance partner. God be with the days when the most erotic thing on Sunday nights on RTÉ was Theresa Lowe asking a family of Leitrim sheep farmers if they knew where in the Czech Republic the town of Bendova was located.

Apart from supper dances, a well-balanced diet is intrinsic to achieving the dadbod. Too far one way, you achieve the less-than desirable deadbod – this about giving in, not giving up completely. Too far the other and you end up plain old fit, which isn’t what you want at all. Fitness – like sports cars, designer furniture and kale – is for the young. The dadbod is more about comfort – like the mini-van, well-worn sofa, and cake. Ask yourself this; if attempting a Dirty Dancing-style overhead lift with your dance partner, which would you prefer to fall on you – a human sideboard with rock hard abs, or a loveable bean bag?

Exercise is another key element, and it is important that this is carried out in the most low-cost way possible. The dadbod is topped off by the dadbrain, a kind of supercomputer solely designed to prevent any money ever being spent on anything.  Thus, no money will be wasted on gym membership when there is a dog literally crying out to be walked instead. Twice a week the family husky – a breed that, unlike its owner, has evolved to cover vast distances – will be taken for a brisk ten-minute stroll around the estate, with the duo returning triumphant and breathless from their Jack London-esque adventure, ready to reward themselves with a dinner of steak (trim the crispy fat for the dog, he’s earned it), mash, gravy and fried onions. If a game of fetch was enjoyed during the walk,  a slice of gateaux can be added to the menu, because you read somewhere that Michael Phelps eats 50 pancakes for breakfast and sher look at him he’s like an eel.

As with any planetoid mass, the dadbod is all about the core. Sit-ups can be performed anywhere – while attempting to get out of a sofa, bed, low office chair, or almost any position other than a perfect vertical. Everything becomes a sort of ab crunch, complete with huffing and puffing, or possibly a whispered ‘ah jaysis’ at some point. But you push through the pain, because the dadbod is all about endurance – if it could endure Christmas with the in laws, it can endure some mild to severe lower back pain. And that’s it – the training is complete, and the dadbod is ready to take on the world, if it has time, because it still needs to varnish the back wall of the shed or the rain will get in.

Des Cahill’s turn on DWTS has been such a success it’s hard for the viewer not to turn into Alan Partridge’s dictaphone, spitting out random ideas – Parkour with Des Cahill, Potholing with Des Cahill, Peyote with Des Cahill. And what about all the other sports commentators and their possible hidden talents – MMA with Michael Lyster, BDSM with Marty Morrissey, Hamilton the Musical with George Hamilton.

Des Cahill’s determination to give virtually any zany outfit and goofy dance move a lash is a solid reminder of how surprising people can be, how interesting we all are, and how hidden worlds turn inside us all. We can only hope that if Voyager I ends up in an intergalactic fenderbender with some alien craft a billion light years away, when they come looking for compo (or our annihilation), they are confronted with the sight of Des, dressed as a bullfighter, flapping his cape like a man possessed, and that they pause, and think ‘ah lads we can’t blow this place up, look at yer man’ – and that they will leave us to continue our strange little lives, hopping around on this pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.