The morality of tax avoidance (The Funny Side)
I love a good scandal. When the paparazzi are camped outside a mansion and newspaper sub-editors are jacking up their headline sizes, my heart fills with hope for humanity.
At times like these, I feel life has purpose, Santa Claus really exists, and one day mutating viruses will kill all the people I hate.
And life's been good this year. Now I wouldn't want anyone to think that I have some sort of irrational hatred of celebrities, simply because I want them all to DIE DIE DIE as horribly as possible.
No. I only enjoy watching them suffer because they learn important moral lessons from doing so. Case in point: the long-running debate on avoiding tax.
In the US, the focus is on the decision of billionaire Eduardo Saverin (the guy who financed Mark Zuckerberg to set up Facebook) to renounce his US citizenship and move to Singapore. Saverin says it's nothing to do with avoiding tax, but neither critics nor defenders believe him.
In the UK, Jimmy Carr, a wealthy comedian, put his cash into a scheme that enabled him to pay less than one per cent tax. Carr had been making jokes against business people who don't pay tax.
"We'd all like to put some money away for a rainy day, but you're more prepared than Noah," one comedian mocked Carr in front of a live TV audience. "We all now see why you work so hard - you get to keep all the money."
Another funnyman said he was shocked to hear that Carr was only paying one per cent tax. "One per cent? Couldn't you beat them down a bit? To point five?"
His accountant was widely criticized. A celebrity sitting next to a dancer on a TV panel show said to Carr: "What a pleasure to be sitting next to the only man in Britain more flexible than your accountant."
Pop singer Gary Barlow, lead vocalist for the band Take That, was also found using a dubious tax avoidance loophole. One comedian said Take That had "changed their name to Keep That".
For his part, Jimmy Carr originally used the "but it was legal" defence, but quickly abandoned it in favor of groveling self-abasement. "I could tell you about the work I did for charity," he said. "But I don't think lying will make it any better."
On the plus side, the debate did produce some creative ideas for tax accountants. One comedian said: "I've got the best accountant in the world: Stephen Hawking. He put my money in another dimension."
A man died last week after eating an "upside down nut", I heard from Steve Hyde, a reader in Taiwan. How did such an innocent object kill a perfectly healthy 37-year-old? The newspapers explained that betel nuts which grow pointing skywards are fine, but ones which grow pointing down are poisonous.
It's odd how communities often have their own "Innocent Item That Kills" myths. In South Korea, it is widely believed that the air from electric fans will kill you if they run for more than a few hours in an enclosed space. If this was true, everyone in Asia would be dead.
In Facebook-land, an item about diced onions being poisonous is going viral. If that was true, all French people would be dead. French people put diced onions into everything, including jam, fruit juice, perfume, shower gel, suppositories, etc.
The man who designed the iPhone has just bought a USUSD 17 million mansion in California, says a tech website. So, do people invited to dinner have to camp outside overnight before getting in?
From Twitter: Of all the Asian martial arts, the one that inflicts most pain is karaoke.
Somewhere in Asia, a Swedish fugitive is hiding, the Stockholm media reported last week. Police caught a guy for smuggling and thought they had jailed him, but recently discovered that he had paid a similar-looking friend to do his jail term for him.
The case shocked people in Europe but is quite common in parts of Asia and is sometimes done with the suspected connivance of authorities. The most notorious example is Gu Kailai at her trial in China recently. Mrs Gu, thin-faced with double-fold eyelids, grew chubby and developed single-fold eyelids at her court appearance.
At a dinner party recently, I asked people how much cash they would need to do someone else's three-year jail term. For those who would, the going rate was USUSD 2 million. For me, no amount of money would make me agree to be locked in a building to be abused night and day by violent murderers, sadists and rapists. I had quite enough of that at school.
A guy aged 122 died in Russia the other day. In an interview, he said he had lived so long by abstaining from women, alcohol and tobacco. I imagine his last words were probably: "If there's no reincarnation, I am SO screwed."
A really troublesome prisoner refused to leave prison EVEN AFTER HE DIED: his ghost stayed in place to annoy the warden, guards and jailbirds. (And I thought my kids were stubborn.) The furious warden had to pay a sorcerer to chase the spirit away from the jailhouse.
A reporter showed me this Hindustan Times story, which came to light last week in Patna, East India, during a rather uncomfortable discussion on invisible "sitting tenants" (ie, ghosts) in Asia. You see, this columnist recently moved into a new Kowloon apartment that was surprisingly cheap. And before you complain, I KNOW it's highly irresponsible (and possibly illegal) to use the word "cheap" in connection with property prices in Hong Kong these days.
But my informant believed I had rented a haunted apartment. And when I mentioned that one wall had been painted pink, he was sure of it. "Feng shui masters paint walls red or pink to repel the spirit of death," he said. "Your home is probably the site of a mass murder."
Even though I don't believe in mythical creatures such as ghosts, zombies, the Easter Bunny or corruption-free Presidents of the Philippines, I was dismayed.
So I called an old contact in the property business. After looking at my address and rental bill, he said: "No murder here. Murder sites get you a much bigger discount. Would you like one?"
He told me that there were people who made fortunes from haunted homes in high-priced cities such as Hong Kong, Mumbai and Tokyo. They simply book the apartments at a huge discount, and then sublet them to overseas bankers at market rates.
"Don't the ghosts scare the investment bankers to death?" I asked.
"I hope so," he replied. "Improves my margins."
Bumper sticker seen by Daniel Bloom of Taiwan: "Sorry, the lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock due to climate change and global warming impacts coming very soon. Call back in one million years."
Marketing professor Aradhna Krishna recently did an experiment in which she gave people large cookies and measured how much they ate. Then she gave them the same cookies labeled "MEDIUM". They ate much more. That proves it! Reading is bad for you.
The latest election poll says "58 percent of Americans believe Barack Obama would beat Mitt Romney in hand-to-hand combat". Is this how they do elections in the US now? If so, can we copy this for Asia? Imagine a world where Rajnikanth would be leader of India and the President of China would be Jackie Chan.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. You can send him comments or ideas via www.mrjam.org)