On the eve of BBC Question Time in Norwich, not just one political demo but two protests against the Government took place. One was anti-austerity/Tory and gathered outside The Open where filming was taking place.
The other was anti-Brexit whose centrepiece was a German carnival float with the sensitivity of a French Charlie Hebdo cover in the spirit of Spitting Image satire – how about that for European unity!
French artist but UK resident for 30 years, Laure Olivier Minns, drew attention to the sad state of the satirical statue, in an interview with the Norwich Evening News:
“Look at the state of her head already, it’s a sign that she isn’t strong and stable.” – Laure Ollivier Minns,EDP
The humour was not to everyone’s taste, and as someone who has experienced suicide attempts, I found the subject matter challenging. The image of Theresa May shooting herself in the mouth was meant to be about Britain committing political suicide by Brexit. Instead, the image was profoundly personal evoking strong reactions.
Perhaps, it should have been Britain shooting itself in the foot, rather than the mouth, it may even be seen as an own-goal. Some erstwhile Remainers refused to attend the rally as a result, others like myself had mixed feelings.
During the evening I had several conversations with passers-by about suicide but few about Brexit. One car driver stopped and said he agreed with what we were doing and supported Remain but having lost a family member to suicide found the imagery distasteful.
Another person found that it conjured up allusions of male-on-female violence. I critiqued that view and pointed out that male suicide by gun is a much higher figure than female suicide fatalities. Well, it created a debate, but perhaps not the one intended. Much as Antony Gormley’s recent rooftop-edge human sculptures up at UEA.
Laure defended the choice to bring the float to Norwich and use it as one expression among many of people’s feelings about Brexit. She said:
“The message is clear: BREXIT IS TOXIC. And that I guess is at least something we all agree on. So this May’s float might not be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of ‘bad taste’ for some, however, I truly believe that it is so important for FREEDOM OF SPEECH to be respected and protected.
Visuals such as the float or other creative means like some ingenious cartoons show humour through carrying angry voices and it is a way to soften anger too strong for words and at the same time be totally spot on in delivering a strong message. Humour is so important to cherish and use through tragedies and political dilemmas to also lighten up the atmosphere. Likewise many creative placards that are conveying strong messages through cartoons of sorts, make an important impact in seconds and make people smile relating to that message or/and provoke a reaction. So what? I think it should. It is a way to be heard.
We can’t expect everyone to agree on each of those creative means to carry our voice forward and it does not mean that the placard of Billy-next-door is a reflection on what we all stand for. We all have our own individual way of expression, shared by other groups or not, and we should remind ourselves that we are marching for the same goal: Pro-EU / stop Brexit > which are both about MAKING OUR VOICE HEARD whatever slogan one chose or art form used.”
Nonetheless, the satire also made the point that most provocative art and humour do, that life is sometimes messy and uncomfortable, opinions differ and divide; it was certainly a talking point – whether it was Remainers shooting themselves in the foot with a tactless float, or Brexiters committing political suicide, we’ll have to wait and see…
The float is currently on a British tour and arrived in Norwich on the same day as the BBC’s Question Time took place at The Open.
Satire or Serious Message?
Düsseldorf’s Karneval regularly features political satire but this year with Donald Trump, Netherlands’ Wilders, France’s Le Pen, Turkey’s Erdogan, along with Britain’s Brexit, there was plenty of material.
The stodgy stereotypical image of German humour is clearly way off the mark as these floats were right up Charlie Hebdo‘s street and could have walked off the Spitting Image TV set. Humour, like art, both protests and provokes. I hope the conversation shifts away from the rather visible satirical attack on Theresa May and instead remains about the political and personal damage that Brexit may do to European relations and EU nationals living here, as well as threats to Britain’s prosperity and cultural tapestry.
Norwich Anti-Austerity Protest
The serious message about austerity and cuts and their impact on the disabled, the poor, and the most vulnerable was also protested outside the BBC filming by Vince Laws, Jan McLachlan, Tim Hughes and many others.
“If the system cripples you, you must cripple the system” – Oscar Wilde
OK, so Vince made that one up, but the #fakenews quote got you thinking and googling its source! What Oscar Wilde did say was – “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”.
Donald Trump wants to spend $54 billion more on the US military, whilst cutting foreign aid and environmental policies to pay for it. Sadly, US surveys during his election campaign indicated around 55% support for this policy. He would do better spending $54bn on education and integration. Meanwhile, over 120 retired US generals and admirals wrote to Congress urging it to maintain diplomacy and foreign aid which has been labelled as “bloat” by some Republicans and could be cut by up to a third.
“This is a landmark event and message to the world in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve…We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: win.” – Donald Trump
The US already spends around $600bn a year on the military and department of defense. That figure is equal to the next dozen nations in total, dwarfing even China’s $150-200bn, Saudi Arabia’s $80bn and Russia’s $70bn. In fact, it spends over 40% of the world’s total military expenditure, making it the world’s military policeman or soldier. America has around 5% of the world’s population but nearly 50% of its military power, in terms of navy, missiles and expenditure. Only Saudi Arabia spends more proportionately, around 10% of its GDP, often buying from American suppliers.
America has around 5% of the world’s population but nearly 50% of its military power, in terms of navy, missiles and expenditure. The US Navy is bigger than the next 7-10 navies combined. Only Saudi Arabia spends more proportionately, around 10% of its GDP, often buying from American suppliers.
Does America not realise that it is its interference in world military conflicts that has precipitated some of the terrorist response. It’s time for superpowers to put their guns away. It’s time for more foreign aid, not sovereign raids.
Books not Bombs
Bernie Sanders, like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, wants to see the nuclear deterrent reduced, and spent better elsewhere. The US spends twice as much per capita as the UK on Defence, indeed the proposed increase is equivalent to the entire UK annual military budget.
We spend more than the next 12 nations combined on defense. We should be investing more in our people, not the military industrial complex. https://t.co/TqM3gNJcR7
“We will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything. Bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and hopefully we’ll never have to use it, but nobody’s going to mess with us, folks. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military buildups in American history. No one will dare question, as they have been, because we’re very depleted, very, very depleted sequester. Sequester. Nobody will question our military might again.” – Donald Trump, CPAC
Trump has also said that he will “obliterate ISIS” and his language sometimes sounds like he could quite possibly go after Iran and North Korea at this rate.
“We don’t win anymore. When was the last time we won? Did we win a war? Did we win anything? Do we win anything? Do we win anything? We’re going to win. We’re going to win big, folks. We’re going to start winning again.” – Donald Trump, CPAC
He sees wars as something to win. He would do well to remember the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo:
“Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle won”.
The last time a Western leader presided over such a large military expansion it ended in the Second World War, just what does Donald Trump want to start? Appealing to the hearts of Republican traditionalists who want a strong America won’t feed, heal, educate, or inspire the minds of its citizens, Democrat or Republican.
There is so much one could say about fear, one could write a book about it, indeed one is. So often fear runs, if not ruins, our lives. It did mine for 40 years. Learning to embrace fear, take the risks anyway, and have a walk on the wild side, was in part down to being ‘outed’ and then choosing to stay ‘out’ rather than retreat back into the closet of fear and self-loathing. I’ve been told I was lucky to be outed rather than face the fear of coming out! You learn to swim or run quickly when thrown to the sharks or wolves.
“fear is not something that I let rule my life, but gratitude is.” – Lana Wachowski
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
One of the most powerful books I’ve never read was the above titled volume by Susan Jeffers. Well I got as far as reading the front cover and never looked back. Nine years ago, in therapy, I paid approximately £15 a word to hear from my therapist at the end of each hour the two words, “Why not?” I spent each hour in fear and not a small amount of self-loathing, she responded, in essence, with “do it anyway”. Feed the fear – and you’ll end up paralysed and do nothing at all.
“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.” – William Jennings Bryan
The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle’s book was also influential and similarly unfinished-unread. My ‘now’ took years to find and only a moment to nearly kill off. It took all my courage to attempt suicide nearly 4 years ago. I was “in the moment” and exhausted of surviving not thriving. Each day it took all my energy just to keep going. Albert Camus wrote that:
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus
I’d given up trying to be normal, I had no energy left for the mask, vulnerability was easy, I had no defences left, and only one last resort.
Walk on the Wild Side
In 2015 Lou Reed was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a second time as a solo artist, the first time was as part of Velvet Underground. It was also the year that the “he [who] was a she” from his most well known Grammy Hall of Fame song -“Walk on the Wild Side“, Holly Woodlawn, died. From the appropriately named album, Transformer (1972), produced by David Bowie the song literally walked on the wild side, risking public outcry and censorship by referring to taboo topics such as transsexuality, male prostitution, colour and oral sex. Whilst British censors missed the references or ignored them, the US released an edited version of the single minus the oral sex reference. I want to live an unedited life!
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’
Candy came from out on the island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
The lyrics describe several of the colourful individuals who frequented Andy Warhol’s New York studio including transwomen and actresses Holly Woodlawn (who died this month after appearing as Vivian in two episodes of the Amazon television drama series Transparent about a family with a transgender father), Candy Darling (d.1974 aged 29), and Jackie Curtis (d.1985 aged 38). Warhol was an inspiration and mentor to Reed.
The title “Walk on the Wild Side” comes from a 1956 novel by Nelson Algren of which, he remarked:
“The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.”
The New York Times Book Review said of it: “His hell burns with passion for heaven.” It was also the source of Algren’s “three rules of life“:
“Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”
Rules to live by: Don’t be afraid of anyone
Lou Reed’s widow of a 21-year relationship and musician in her own right, Laurie Anderson, gave a speech on his behalf this year and quoted their three rules to live by:
Don’t be afraid of anyone
Get a good bullshit detector
Be really tender
“One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”
The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
So much irreverent wisdom comes from Dr Seuss, not the least of which is this:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
The most important bit of which is “be who you are“, sometimes “saying what you feel” can be worth some discretion and discernment. A past girlfriend taught me a lot about authenticity and learning to be myself has been the best journey of my life, and I’ve travelled extensively, and not without the odd international incident in the Middle East and Africa!
Whilst mid-life crises often afflict us in our forties, it is said that life begins at fifty. “A massive 92% of women in their 50s say they’re happier than they’ve ever been“. At 50, we’re over halfway and have learned hopefully to let go of the things that held us back thus far. For me, having led a double life until 40, it feels like I’m having a second bite of the cherry. If football is a game of two halves, then I’m in the mid-match break about to kick-off the second half.
“What would you be like if you were the only person in the world? If you want to be truly happy you must be that person.” – Quentin Crisp
New Year’s Resolution, New Me
I turn 49 in 2016, I’ll have been on female hormones (my male ones never worked anyway) for 6 years and I’ve finally plucked up the courage to go under the knife (6 Feb 2016) for what some would erroneously call cosmetic surgery – for many trans people, it’s life saving surgery. It’s actually a labioplasty not the usually requested vaginoplasty, and it’s probably not for the reasons one may suspect.
It’s more about a letting go of something than gaining anything new. But it’s the letting go, that was holding me back, leaving me in a literal “no man’s land” limbo the last decade.
One of my several psychiatrists (I’ve been married to one, and had four, along with a couple of psychologists) once said to me:
“You are the most reluctant transsexual I’ve ever met!”
I’ve tried everything from Christian deliverance and healing, denial, suicide, to sex and body workshops, self-development work, and yet more therapy and therapists, to avoid being me. I’m not expecting surgery to change me, rather to free myself up from some unnecessary encumbrances, literally! I dealt with the emotional baggage some time ago, now for the physical baggage. I expect to be travelling lighter from now on.
3 Rules of Life: Be Real, Be You, Be Free
“Sorry for being me but I have great difficulty being anybody else” – Spike Milligan
As Oscar Wilde never said, instead it appears to have been some millennial advertising slogan, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. What Oscar did say was:
“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead” (1882)
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” (1890)
Well, I tried the mask and he lied. Dropping the public persona and allowing the vulnerable inner me to step out and lead my real life. It has been undeniably scary but a ride nonetheless, and the journey is only just beginning. 2015 feels like it is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end of my old life. 2016 will allow me to move forward with a bit less of my body and a whole lot more of me.
It seems everything is taxed these days, from bedrooms to tampons, oversized coffins and even death itself. Death and taxes, not the punk song by Kid Dynamite, nor the debut 1941 novel by accountant David Dodge about a tax expert and reluctant detective James ‘Whit’ Whitney, but those certainties first twinned by Christopher Bullock in his 1716 Cobbler of Preston, and no, it was not Mark Twain, either:
“’Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes!”
In 1724’s Dancing DevilsEdward Ward wrote of their certainty:
“Death and Taxes, they are certain.”
That devilish certainty was repeated by Daniel Defoe in his 1726 Political History of the Devil:
“Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.”
More familiar, perhaps is the reference by Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in the year of the French Revolution, 1789.
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Margaret Mitchell added a third inconvenience in her 1936 book Gone With the Wind:
“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”
Will Rogers quipped that:
“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
Death from Taxes
Of the two certainties in life, death and taxes, there are as many curious taxes as causes of death, indeed some of the former may be brought about by the latter. Government austerity cuts, a kind of reverse taxation but cutting benefits, can lead to deaths too – suicides, illness, and accidental – as one listener to BBC Radio 4 pointed out this week, having a DWP fitness for work interview pass you as fit when you suffer from blackouts and then you get a job as a driver and plough down innocent pedestrians in a dustbin lorry, for example.
My favourite misguided tax is still the window tax, not the Windows tax – the cost of bundling Microsoft Windows with all new PCs. The 1696 tax is still much in evidence today by bricked up 17th-18th century building windows. Allegedly it is the origin of the term “daylight robbery”, and only repealed in 1851 after complaints that it was a “tax on health”, and a “tax on light and air”. Just like income tax there was a tax-free allowance of 6-8 windows. The origins of the first council tax, in fact, with property bands based upon the number of windows – so people cheated and bricked up their windows – when they could afford the bricks.
The Brick Tax
Thank god, not on Lego, but on bricks and taxed at manufacturing source on the builders during the revenue-raising needs of the Napoleonic and American Wars and after up until 1850. It was charged per brick so canny builders increased the size of them until the government of the day capped the maximum size of a brick by law. Clever tax avoidance is not a modern phenomena restricted to Amazon, Apple, Ebay, Google, Starbucks, Vodafone etc.
The Hat Tax
Another means of funding wars was the hat tax, which was essentially on the wealthy. Nonetheless milliners found ways round it, reclassifying their headgear leading to a legal definition of a hat in 1804, or faking the tax labels at great risk as hat tax avoidance could merit the death penalty – something to reconsider for Apple and Amazon?
The Hearth Tax
The late 17th century hearth and stove tax on heating and fireplaces served to take from the necessities of life to provide for the luxuries of life of King Charles II.
The Wallpaper Tax
Introduced under Queen Anne in 1712 but ran for 124 years on preprinted and painted wallpaper at least. This led to artistic ingenuity and spontaneous on-site stenciling on plain papers by creative builders and decorators.
The Soap Tax
The “mischievous and vexatious” soap tax raised as much as alcohol duty does today. It ran for 142 years until its repeal in 1853. It was levied upon the weight of soap not its quality or value and thus disproportionately affected the poor and prejudiced their cleanliness and overall health. It became a slave trade issue under William Gladstone who abolished it in favour of a less distorted market in African palm oil products.
“AMONGST our numerous taxes, this is one of the worst. It is levied on an article essential both to cleanliness and health; it is very unequal; for whilst the duty adds two thirds to the price of the coarse soap which the poor man uses, it becomes trivial when levied on the refined and scented soaps of the rich. It combines in itself, and that to a considerable extent, two of the most objectionable elements in taxation: duties are laid upon all the raw materials of its manufacture, and then a heavy duty, both mischievous and vexatious, is levied upon the manufactured commodity, the effect of the regulations under which it is collected being to encourage smuggling, and to shut out all improvement in the legitimate trade.” – The Spectator, 27 April 1833
A Beard Tax
A tax on beards – a surefire way to raise money today out of coiffured lumbersexuals – was apparently a myth. Razors and shaving items are, however, taxed at 20% which is actually a tax on non-beards!
A Tampon Tax
Yes, unlike beards but not shaving, they are taxed – albeit at a reduced rate of 5% rather than the 20% VAT on other allegedly non-medically necessary health and sanitary care products. That they should be taxed at all is a scandal, but it is a false argument to compare them to men’s sanitary products, despite shaving being a choice and bleeding, not one, since men’s grooming products are mostly charged at 20%.
Variations on this have been around since time immemorial. Censuses make it possible. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 opposed it as did the people’s revolt of 1990, i.e., the UK ‘Poll Tax’ riots under Margaret Thatcher. After the Black Death took out half the population there was a shortage of supply and increased opportunities for the surviving working population. This led to socio-economic upward mobility and a power shift towards labourers, something the property classes did not like. War with France needed finance and so repeated taxes on every adult were applied and raised. The second poll tax was actually quite fair based upon seven different English classes, and taxing the wealthiest upper classes the most. It was broadly evaded and avoided though and raised little, prompting a third flat rate tax on everyone, which was the one that caused the lower classes to rebel.
The Council Tax
Coming in as allegedly more progressive than the infamous headcount Poll Tax or Community Charge, the Council Tax is often raised for reform as the values of houses and banding have changed so radically since its inception and a review is well overdue. Adding additional higher bands would be an excellent tax on property, but it is the people with property that make the decisions and they are reticent.
The Bedroom Tax
Or “Spare Room Subsidy” as politicians on one side of the House tried to label it, but like the Poll Tax, the colloquial name stuck. It is a reduction in benefit, another tax by stealth, on housing benefit for having an alleged excess of bedrooms – leading to attempts to redefine the smallest room as a box room and uninhabitable. Of course private tenants, were already receiving reduced benefits for living alone as brought in under Labour. Council social housing tenants were not affected until the Conservatives applied similar but not identical rules to them. it cruelly and disproportionately affected the disabled and their carers, the elderly keeping a spare room for family, and families with those in the forces rendered unable to maintain a room at home for them.
The Inheritance Tax
This is at one at the same time the fairest and unfairest tax. It is a kind of tax on death itself, a double taxation on property acquired through previously taxed income and expenditure, since there is also a Stamp Duty Tax on property purchase. Whilst it is blatantly an unethical double taxation, it is obviously affordable, though the rich circumvent it and the asset rich, cash poor are most affected by being unable to pass on a family home without selling up.
Tax Evasion and Avoidance
The more you have, the easier it is to avoid responsibility and requirement. The irony of public ownership is the duty to shareholders to maximise profit and minimise tax on commercial enterprises. Artfully called tax avoidance or reduction, or even tax flight, only tax evasion is technically illegal. The rest, many regard as unethical. As Plato said, that avoidance is unjust.
“When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.”
Taxes are necessary evils, originally bought in to finance wars rather than the welfare state. Tax collectors and money lenders are oft caricatured as evil themselves. In some countries, Hijra trans people are employed to shame and embarrass people into paying their taxes.
A number of Middle Eastern countries have just bought in taxes for the first time with the price of oil at a recent low meaning that they cannot live off their natural assets.
Competing economists and politicians have argued for a low flat rate tax that is paid by all and encourages compliance and simplicity versus complex and graduated taxes on income and wealth which are often avoided. From Churchill to Thatcher many have argued that lower taxes encourage prosperity and allegedly raise more revenues.
“It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the tax rates.” – John F. Kennedy
“For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” – Winston Churchill
The UK tax handbook runs to thousands of pages, wouldn’t a simple flat tax be better? Even if it were true, it would raise prosperity for all, in an uneven, unfair way.
Taxes on consumption of alcohol and tobacco, fuel and certain foods, are the easiest to administer but fall heaviest on the poor.
No tax seems fair and more of us want to live off-grid, bringing back barter and local exchanged trading schemes as alternates to taxable currency, income and purchases, until, that is, we use a road, call the police, or need the NHS and wonder how we pay for it? The better the life we want, the more we will need taxes to pay for it, and the less we can rely on diminishing natural resources to prop up the state. Taxes are about responsibility and being wealthy enough to be income taxed at least means being better off than those that live below the minimum income tax bracket. I’d love to be rich enough to have to pay a 40-50% tax on higher income levels!