November 23, 2012

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:04

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. There was a very wide range of reactions on the Lost Shores event and the new content that was released last weekend, plus all the usual blog posts, articles, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction.

Brendan O’Neill: Israel as a “rogue state”

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:23

In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill on the branding of Israel as a rogue state by the usual suspects:

Events of the past week have illuminated what Israel has become in Western political circles: a rogue state for the right-on. Where George W Bush had Iraq, and Barack Obama has Iran, Western Leftists have Israel: an allegedly rogue entity, a deviant state, whose lawlessness they can rail against in precisely the same way that American leaders slam states that they judge to be roguish. Today’s fashionable bashing of Israel is not a genuinely anti-imperialist or even particularly anti-war stance — rather, it is motored by the same thirst to discover a faraway embodiment of evil we can all get righteously angry about that has fuelled American foreign policy in recent years.

The most striking thing about the Israel-bashing lobby is how similar its language is to that used by Washington, which is hardly known for its peacenik virtues. Most strikingly, the anti-Israel set promiscuously bandies about the phrase “rogue state”, which was first invented by the Clinton administration in the 1990s in its desperate search for post-Soviet Union foreign wickedness that it might define itself against. As one author has said, the term “rogue state” is used by Western officials as a “certificate of dangerous insanity in the diplomatic world” — that is, it is used to brand certain states as mad, bad and beyond the Pale, as offensive to all right-minded people. A very similar streak of Western chauvinism runs through the Israel-loathing lobby.

So this week, Labour MP Gerald Kaufman said Israel is a “rogue state” and an “aggressor state”. Leaving aside that it is hilariously hypocritical for a man who voted for both the Labour government’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 (600 dead) and its bombing of Iraq in 2003 (many thousands dead) to snootily refer to another state as an “aggressor” — what is more striking is Kaufman’s insistence that Israel is “criminal” and that its people are “complicit in [their] government’s war crimes”. This depiction of Israel as deviant, as rogue, as a breaker of international laws, and the burdening of its people with collective guilt for all this criminality, precisely echoes the arguments used by the most war-hungry of today’s Western politicians as they seek to assert their authority over some “bad state” or “bad people” overseas.

Google the latest whipping boy in Australia over taxation

Filed under: Australia, Business, Europe, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

Even if you scrupulously obey the multiple jurisdictional laws to legally minimize the amount of tax you pay, politicians can’t resist the opportunity to pillory you for not paying your “fair share”:

The Minister’s explanation of Google’s tax affairs is as follows:

    “While the day-to-day dealings of Australian firms advertising on Google might be with Google Australia, under the fine print of contracts Australian firms sign with Google, they are actually buying their advertising from an Irish subsidiary of Google.

    It is then argued that the source of this income — and therefore the taxing rights under our tax treaty — would be with Ireland rather than Australia. Despite Ireland’s relatively low company tax rate of 12.5 per cent, we have just started to build the sandwich.

    The next step is to route a royalty payment from the Irish operating subsidiary of Google to a Dutch subsidiary of Google, which is then paid back to a second Irish holding company subsidiary of Google that is controlled in Bermuda, which has no corporate tax.

    The first Irish subsidiary receives a tax deduction for the royalty payment to the Dutch subsidiary, substantially reducing the income subject to the 12.5 per cent Irish company tax rate.

    Under Dutch law, and because EU member countries do not charge withholding taxes on transfers within the EU, the transfers to and from the Netherlands are essentially tax free.

    And under Irish tax law, the second Irish resident subsidiary is not taxed on the royalty payment because it is controlled by managers elsewhere.

    The profits from the sale of advertising to an Australian firm then sit in a tax-free jurisdiction — possibly indefinitely.”

Tax lawyers — especially those who work on multinational levels — don’t create these situations out of whole cloth: it’s the politicians and revenue ministries that set up and maintain the tax rules. Corporations are legally required to pay taxes (as are individuals), but corporations are also legally required to conduct themselves in ways that maximize the profits for their shareholders. Finding ways to legally pay tax at a lower rate is a requirement. That companies like Apple and Google are big enough to take advantage of the “loopholes” deliberately created by the tax authorities is not a reason to bash Apple or Google. They can only take advantage of “loopholes” because this or that government tried to rig the system in a particular way. Changing or threatening to change the rules retrospectively is a really good way to indicate to foreign business that you really don’t want them operating in your territory.

Update: Snigger.

The bridge that eats trucks

Filed under: Railways, Randomness, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:38

It’s a bridge so fearsome that it has its own website for breathtaking footage of trucks coming to grief at 11’8″:

If you’re paying attention this week when you drive that tall truck down South Gregson Street, you’ll get fair warning about the low bridge ahead.

A series of yellow diamond signs, starting a block in advance, will tell you about the 11-foot, 8-inch clearance.

Then the yellow lights will go crazy, the ones with an overhead sign that says: OVERHEIGHT WHEN FLASHING.

You’ll have one last chance to escape disaster. You can turn onto Peabody Street, just before Gregson runs beneath the railroad bridge that carries freight and passenger trains across downtown Durham.

But if you’re not paying attention — you dummy! — you’ll make plenty of noise as you crash into that low bridge. It will peel the roof off your moving van. It will scatter the hay bales or building supplies stacked much too high on your flatbed.

It might leave your box truck wedged beneath the overpass. The tow-truck driver will have to deflate your tires before he can haul your sorry self away.

You can watch a collection of truck decapitation clips here: http://11foot8.com/

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