July 28, 2012

"Unfathomably, the programme notes for the Harry Potter author, who read from the opening of Peter Pan, declared her to be 'a great philanthropist, praised by the Government as a tax angel – one of the few who willingly pays her tax bill.'"

From the long, photo-filled Daily Mail article about last night's opening ceremony for the London Olympics.

Unfathomably? Oh, come on. It must be at least possible to fathom it!

The OED tells us that to fathom means "To encircle with extended arms." So: Can you get your arms around it? Can the government get its arms around you?

The opening ceremony also had a giant production number celebrating the National Health Service, replete with hundreds of dancing doctors and nurses in period costumes, and children in pjs bouncing on oversized hospital beds.

Socialized medicine will encircle you with its extended arms.

J.K. Rowling (the "Harry Potter" author) read from J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" — video — and we were told that Barrie donated the royalties from "Peter Pan" to GOSH (the Great Ormand Street Hospital).  We saw "GOSH" in big lights along with "NHS" in that production number.

(Wikipedia: "When the copyright originally expired at the end of 1987, 50 years after Barrie's death, the UK government granted the hospital a perpetual right to collect royalties for public performances, commercial publication, or other communications to the public of the work.... GOSH has been in legal disputes in the United States, where the copyright term is based on date of publication, putting the 1911 novel in the public domain, although the Hospital asserts that the 1928 version of the play is still under copyright in the U.S.")

Rowling tied it all together. Like Barrie, she's an author of children's literature. (The production number more generally celebrated Britain's children's literature, e.g., "Mary Poppins.") Like Barrie, Rowling represents giving up one's money to the greater good. Barrie voluntarily donated a specific flow of money — "Peter Pan" royalties — to a specific cause — a children's hospital. Rowling is just a very rich person who — visibly and graciously — submits to taxation.

This year's Forbes magazine rich list showed that Rowling "has dropped out of the world's exclusive billionaires' club as a result of Britain's high tax regime."

So, fathom that: The government has gotten its arms around her fortune.  Unlike the charitable giving of yore — exemplified by Barrie — the modern-day secular saint need only sit still for taxation, and the government will decide exactly where it goes. It's the way things are done now, and it's massively celebrated as part of the Olympics spectacle about what makes Great Britain so great. The spectacle notably took us through the phrases of history, and those wonderful children's authors have been giving children reading material and vast donations of wealth, in their own way and in their own time. And in our time, the government has an immense role.


"No man ought to graspe more then he can well fathome." Bp. J. Hall Horæ Vacivæ 71 (1646)(via OED).


Bob Ellison said...

I watched some of the opening ceremony with my kids. What a strange pageant! It seemed like a vast inside joke for Brits, but with no Monty Python for the rest of us to appreciate.

shoutingthomas said...

When I've worked with British musicians, I've often struggled with the snot nosed brat attitude that living on the dole produces.

I remember in particular a woman that Myrna and I hired for a few gigs. We asked her what she was going to wear to a performance and her reply was:

"I don't do pretty."

We got rid of her fast.

mikee said...

I started watching near the end, just as a giant baby got covered up with a blanket. And I thought that having Pink Floyd do the opening ceremony was an interesting choice.

Hagar said...

The unfathomable part is about why a comment like that is printed in the program(me)?

Paco Wové said...

J. K. Rowling: Peoples' Taxation Hero, First Class.

rhhardin said...

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The fathom does.

Hagar said...

David Cameron is no Mrs. Thatcher, and Ed Milliband is no Tony Blair.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I noticed on concession to realism in their literal paean to the Nanny State: there seemed to be two children to a hospital bed. Overall, though, I thought the ceremony was terrific. (Turning it off and going to bed when Paul McCartney came on probably helped.)

Paul Zrimsek said...

P.S. When you've got Rowan Atkinson on board, you can get by without Monty Python.

edutcher said...

In the their paean to the NHS, did they show anyone laying abandoned in one of those hospital beds, denied food and water, so they'd just die and stop being a burden to the glorious state?

Palladian said...

Socialized medicine will encircle you with its extended arms.

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me,
Mom, in your long arms.
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

Pogo said...

I suppose you'd celebrate the mediocre NHS when you've got little else to brag on.

What, no giant decayed teeth? No styrofom hospitals, shuttered for lack of funds? No parade of elderly stiffs, killed by morphine while ill? No dancing yobs, never-employed, grasping thieves on the dole? No defenseless citizens, unable to own weapons?

Shit, they just needed to show A Clockwork Orange on a big screen. Woulda saved a tidy sum.

Pogo said...

One of my favorite songs of all time.

Paco Wové said...

...when love is gone, there's always justice.
And when justice is gone, there's always force.

Skipper said...

An unwitting exposition on the downfall of the British empire. Embarrassing.

Pogo said...

"...a tax angel – one of the few who willingly pays her tax bill."

Meaning that everyone else with any brains has already left, much as they are now abandoning France.

Also recognizing that ordinary humans want to avoid gummint confiscation. Only angels and idiots pay the full levy.

Pogo said...

An aside.

How is that here I find several who not only know of O Superman, but likely can recite the lyrics from memory, while I have never in real life met anyone yet who has ever heard the song?

Chip S. said...

1984!--The Musical

Palladian said...

That's a good question, Pogo. This place must be some sort of Laurie Anderson vector.

BTW. I can not only recite the lyrics, I've performed the song, vocoder and all.

ricpic said...

I didn't see it, but from the description the opening ceremony sounds like a celebration of all things Brit. What does that have to do with the Olympics?

Mark said...

Why do I get the feeling the morality play re: J.K. Rowling ends with her dying destitute in an NHS ward, dehydrated, malnourished, and in pain?

sane_voter said...

Truly lame opening ceremony. Think of paying thousands of pounds to watch that crap in person. But they luvs their "free" health care.

Colibri Noctis said...


Colibri Noctis said...

"Five rings to rule them all..."

sane_voter said...

Also it seems that Europeans always do weird opening and closing ceremonies for their sporting events, so it wasn't surprising.

Now is the time on Sprockets when ve dance!

chickelit said...

OT (but not really): don't forget Kenneth Branagh's loving paean to wealth maker Isambard Kindom Brunel: link

Beldar said...

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – Robert Browning

sleepless nights said...

She also gave away 160M to charity in addition to paying her UK taxes.


wef said...

Servile is an apt word here. A ceremony in praise of the servile. After paying your taxes, go pretend you are a child. A cynical pageant of servility.

jr565 said...

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat,
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Now my advice for those who die, (Taxman!)
Declare the pennies on your eyes, (Taxman!)
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
And you’re working for no-one but me,

jr565 said...

If you wrote 7 novels, you didn't write that. Somebody else made that happen.