Global Glance: January 25, 2016
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
- Apple Inc.: Begging in Brussels
- Swearing in the US and the UK
- Cleric declares chess the work of the devil
Apple Inc.: Begging in Brussels
Global corporate tax legislation is changing. Much of the change is being spurred and shaped by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s ongoing BEPS project, which seeks to combat base erosion and profit shifting by multinationals. This past October, the OECD released its final BEPS report calling for a universal reform of tax rules. According to an OECD press release, the report “provides governments with solutions for closing the gaps in existing international rules that allow corporate profits to ‘disappear’ or be artificially shifted to low/no tax environments, where little or no economic activity takes place.” (Radius blog readers can learn more about BEPS in our next post — to be published this Wednesday — and again in another post to be published in the coming weeks.)
One prominent related case involves investigation of Apple Inc. in Ireland by European Union authorities. The Radius blog covered the genesis of this way back in a 2013 post, which explained that the EU investigation focused on several large multinationals, including Apple, “that allegedly struck sweetheart tax deals” with certain EU national governments.
The Apple case is back in the news, including last Friday’s front-page article in The Financial Times and this article in Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg sums up the situation nicely: “Apple is being scrutinized by European officials, who accuse the company of using subsidiaries in Ireland to avoid paying taxes on revenue generated abroad. While Apple generates about 60 percent of its sales outside the US, its foreign tax rate is about 1.8 percent.” The investigation “could force the iPhone maker to pay more than $8 billion in back taxes.”
Apple has decided to fight back, or at least throw itself on the mercy of the court. Apple CEO Tim Cook flew to Brussels last Thursday to meet Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s competition commissioner (i.e., antitrust chief). The Times explains that Irish authorities worry that Apple is receiving unfair treatment and that “Ms. Vestager’s staff have changed the legal arguments in the run-up to a decision on whether to order a repayment of back taxes.” It adds that Cook’s visit “is a sign that Apple is worried about the direction of Ms. Vestager’s inquiry,” a safe assertion given the amount of money on the line.
Cook and others at Apple will have at least a little more time for lobbying and handwringing. Bloomberg speculates that a decision on the investigation “may come as soon as March, though regulators are still seeking information on the case, which could mean it will take longer.”
Swearing in the US and the UK
BBC Culture recently published an excerpt from the book That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms and What Our English Says About Us. It’s written by Erin Moore, who was raised in the US but now lives in the Islington district of London. She has an excellent ear for the nuances of English, or at least American English (where I’m on firmer ground). The excerpt addresses the fascinating subject of swearing in America and the UK.
As Moore observes (rightly I think) in the BBC piece, “there is a real puritanical streak in America” and “the British seem far more fluent at swearing than Americans.” Indeed, many Americans still associate swearing with uncouthness. Even otherwise laid-back adults will often use euphemisms like “F-bomb” in conversations where no children are present for fear of being discredited, which is remarkable given the kind of language used in most American movies, pay TV and (unedited) pop music. According to Moore, Brits in conversation “are more likely to link colorful language with having a sense of humor than with coarseness or vulgarity.”
Moore is also good on how some words have different associations, including levels of offensiveness, in the UK and the US, and how the power of certain words to shock in each culture may diminish over time. She notes for example that not too long ago the word bloody “qualified as the strongest expletive available in just about every English-speaking nation except the United States.”
For a good discussion of swearing from a Brit’s perspective, check out the entry “Four-letter words” in Kingsley Amis’s The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage, posthumously published in 1998. Amis reminds us that the British weren’t always fluent at swearing. Before the transformative 1960s, he writes, “to utter or to write a swear-word … counted as a small act of revolt … parents, grandparents, teachers, men in dog-collars, married men and subscribers to Boots’ Booklovers’ Library were dead against anything of the sort. So, for instance, when you let fall a swear-word in front of a contemporary you were among other things revealing yourself as a diminutive dissident and inviting your hearer to make a recognition signal.” My guess is that in certain less permissive societies today that kind of thing still goes on.
For a list and descriptions of some good websites that explore the differences between British and American English, check out this Radius post.
Cleric Declares Chess the Work of the Devil
According to a recent Financial Times article, chess’ global popularity and general level of play has increased with the rise of the internet. The article explains that just one online chess website among many — Chess.com — has nearly 13 million registered users, and that “personal computers and chess-playing software are helping children to become stronger players faster.”
The easy access afforded by online play has also led to the “appearance of strong players in countries that never previously enjoyed a chess tradition.” China is the reigning champion of the biennial Chess Olympiad, which is a “sign of the times” for an event once dominated by players from the Soviet Union (and then Russia). The article concludes that with “the game gaining greater global exposure thanks to the internet, some aficionados are increasingly optimistic that it may one day be played as part of the Olympic Games.”
The expansion of the 1,500-year-old game may slow some in the next months and years, at least in some parts of the world. The New York Times reported last Friday that “Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess ‘forbidden,’ calling it a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players,” and that “the game was ‘the work of Satan,’ like alcohol and gambling.” The article notes that the declaration, which was made on a Saudi TV show, “appeared to garner attention online in the run-up to a chess tournament scheduled for Friday in Mecca.” It also explains that the declaration may not actually become law in Saudi Arabia, and furthermore may not affect the private chess-playing habits of Saudi citizens.
For a good related opinion piece, read Stephen Moss’s Guardian article, “Chess Is Gloriously Rebellious. Maybe That’s What Saudi Arabia’s Mufti Fears.” Moss points out that “this is not the first time chess has run into trouble in the Middle East.” The game was banned for about a decade in Iran after the 1979 revolution; in Afghanistan by the Taliban from 1996 until its overthrow in 2001; and in Iraq. Moss indicates there's some irony in all of this, as the game itself “came to Europe with the Muslim armies that conquered much of Spain.”
Moss’ article is admirably balanced. He concedes that “the grand mufti does have a point. Chess is largely a waste of time, and it does unquestionably cause enmity and hatred between people.” Moss also warns us to “beware all the grand claims made on [chess’] behalf.” He reminds us — with effective supporting quotes from Albert Einstein and William Hazlitt — that while chess may occasionally be played by extremely smart people, it is still only a game and ultimately an escape from the real world.