Night Music: Cry Like A Rainy Day

December 22, 2019


Chanukkah Sameach!

December 22, 2019


Small World Video Winners

December 21, 2019

The following are the finalists of the Nikon Small World competition for 2019. Fascinating stuff!


Snacks Tonight #31

December 21, 2019

 

I made northern English-style pork pies.  First time I made hot water pastry, I believe.


Image: Business of Fishing

December 21, 2019


Writing For Dollars

December 21, 2019

For some, writing can be a very lucrative business.  Forbes magazine has compiled a list of the top five earning authors of 2019:

  1. $92m — J.K. Rowling
  2. $70m — James Patterson
  3. $36m — Michele Obama
  4. $20m — Jeff Kinney
  5. $17m — Stephen King

Other than Michele Obama, the names will be familiar to those who saw the report in March this year that tracked the top writers’ earnings from 2008-2018.  As I wrote then, the rich get a great deal richer.

I doubt that the new anti-transgender controversy concerning Rowling will affect her income to any great extent.


Night Music: Boplicity

December 20, 2019


Art Auctions 2019

December 20, 2019

The figures are in for the top auction sales of the year.  There were some remarkable individual results, topped by this Monet:

 

  1.  $ 110.7m — Claude Monet:  Meules
  2.  $ 91m — Jeff Koons:  Rabbit
  3.  $ 88.8m — Robert Rauschenberg:  Buffalo II
  4.  $ 59.2m — Cezanne:  Bouilloire et fruits
  5.  $ 54.9m — Pablo Picasso:  Femme au chien
  6.  $ 53m — Andy Warhol: Double Elvis
  7.  $ 52.5m — Ed Ruscha:  Hurting The Word Radio
  8.  $ 50.3 — Francis Bacon: Study For A Head
  9.  $ 50.1m — Rothko:  untitled (1960)
  10.  $ 37.6m — David Hockney: Portait of Henry Gledzahler and Christopher Scott

 

Some readers may recall that when the ridiculous shiny toy called Rabbit made $91m, I stopped reporting on art because I was so distraught at the weakening of values that Koon’s kitsch revealed.

More importantly, the figures show that New York continues to top London as the number one place to sell art. Highest prices 1 through 9 were sold in NY while only the Hockney was from a London sale.

Also noticeable is the continued dominance of male artists.  The highest price for a female artist was the $32m for Louise Bourgeois’s Spider, which clocked in at 15th place.


Musical Discoveries 2019

December 20, 2019

My two favourite musical discoveries this year have been Tuba Skinny and Caro Emerald.

Tuba Skinny plays generally lesser-known traditional jazz and blues from New Orleans.  Wonderful lively stuff, they are led by cornet & piano player Shaye Cohn (granddaughter of Al Cohn), and perform on the streets for a walk-by audience. Vocals by Erika Lewis are just perfectly pitched.  Hear a bunch of their stuff here.

 

 

Caro Emerald is a gloriously versatile singer from Holland who revels in jazz, pop, and swing.  Her style can be gathered from A Night Like This and Paris. She has been on the scene for a decade and I am amazed that I missed falling for her before.


The Hollowing Out of Press Freedom

December 20, 2019

A new report from Reporters Without Borders shows that, globally, we are losing the battle for free speech in the media.


A Lovely Evening

December 19, 2019

The Everloving and I live in a small 7-unit apartment building. We have lived here for 19 years. Some friends of ours used to live in one of the other units but they have moved.  The Everloving has very occasionally visited one or other of the suites and once in a while we will bump into other residents by the mailboxes or the garage. But, besides those few instances, to be frank, in those 19 years we might have been living in separate buildings.

About a week ago, we received a hand-written invitation to an open house casual party from a couple that moved in earlier this year, and last night we attended. It was a marvelous event! The residents of one suite are in Florida, but folks from most of the other suites came along. We got to meet each other — some for the very first time — and chat.  Nothing exciting happened.  We learned a bit about each other, we swapped stories (good and bad) about our landlord, we ate each others’ Christmas baking. But the whole evening was a delight.

Apart from the pleasure I got from the evening, the reason I think this is worth writing about is because, as someone remarked last night, this is a very non-Vancouver thing to do, for apartment residents to get together just to meet and greet.  I have lived in small apartment buildings here for the last 40 years, in the West End, in Kerrisdale, and here off the Drive and this is the first time such a thing has been organized.

There was much talk about doing something similar in the spring or summer, and I can hardly wait!


Finding The Original Buddha

December 19, 2019

For anyone interested in religion and spirituality in general, and Buddhism in particular, Alexander Wynne has a marvelous short essay in Aeon about recovering the historical figure behind all the myths of the Buddha.

That he had a princely background, unaware of life’s sufferings, until a particular event is easily dismissed by unravelling some of the earliest strands in the Pali canon.

“In none of these is the Buddha ever called Siddhattha. Indeed, since this word means ‘one who has fulfilled [siddha] his purpose [attha]’, it looks very much like a mythic title, and in fact is used in only late mythic texts such as the Pali Apadāna.  The early texts instead refer to the Buddha as ‘the ascetic Gotama’. While the Mahāpadāna Sutta states that ‘Gotama’ was the name of the Buddha’s family lineage, other evidence tells a different story. Most texts say that the Buddha’s family belonged to the lineage of the ‘Sun’ (ādicca), which agrees with the Buddha’s oft-repeated epithet ‘kinsman of the Sun’ (ādicca-bandhu). Since there is no reliable evidence that the Buddha’s family belonged to the Gotama lineage, and a mass of textual evidence against it, how are we to explain this name? It is likely that ‘Gotama’ was the Buddha’s personal name, just as the Sanskrit equivalent (Gautama) is a common personal name in modern India.”

His early successes as a teacher are also in doubt:

“[A] critical study of the textual record suggests a surprising story: Gotama doubted his own teaching ability, was not taken seriously by the first person to witness him (as the Buddha), and did not achieve notable success with his first audience. How, then, did he succeed?

“[T]he Sutta-nipāta (‘A Collection of Discourses’) – an old corpus of wisdom literature – is more revealing. Gotama here emerges as a lone voice from the wilderness, inspiring others with a call to join an austere cult of meditation. [In the Muni-Sutta] the Buddha describes the sage as a radical outsider:  “Danger is born from intimacy, dust arises from the home. Without home, without acquaintance: just this is the vision of a sage” … Most striking is what could be called the ‘dialectic of silence’: when asked abstract metaphysical questions, such as whether the world is eternal, whether the soul is different from the body, or what happens to a liberated person (tathāgata) after death and so on, Gotama stays silent.”

Modern western Buddhism (a la Watts, et al) has lost much of the original teachings, relying more on fairly modern interpretations:

“A feature of the modern mindfulness movement, inherited from fairly recent Burmese innovations, is its appeal to the laity, and hence its essentially therapeutic, rather than salvific, aim. Nothing could be further removed from the Buddha’s radical ideal of sagehood. By insisting on ascetic discipline and a life of homeless wandering, Gotama presented mindfulness as a total life commitment [rather than as a component of an engaged lifestyle].”

Wynne suggests it is of value to regain the original insights:

“Whether or not Gotama is correct, his voice is worth hearing. His antirealistic analysis – in which the world depends on the activity of our minds and sense faculties – could be a useful aid to modern cognitive science, and might broaden the focus of the mindfulness movement beyond therapy … Sleeping out in the open, eating once a day, and frequently on the road, Gotama cuts a more austere figure than expected. His silent wisdom comes from somewhere else. We learn about his early failures, and then the strange story of his success: how he created an ancient cult of meditation, through enigmatic silence, radical ideas, and a simple insistence on being mindfully aware of the moment.”


Image: City Abstract #4

December 19, 2019


Night Music: What Goes On

December 18, 2019


Community Self Help

December 17, 2019

Several years ago, Coast Mountain removed the bus shelter that used to be on the east side of Commercial by E. Georgia (opposite the York Theatre). This was a grave inconvenience to a tired old fart like me and also because the bus stop is close to a major seniors’ facilities. I wrote both to the bus company and CoV Engineering at the time, without any response.

I happened by there this morning to discover that some civic minded person has come up with a partial homemade solution:

Bravo!


Image: Sky Diving

December 17, 2019


In A Lonely Place

December 17, 2019

While waiting for my next 2010s novel to arrive at the local library, I decided to read something rather older, a crime novel that was recommended to me some while ago,  It is In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, published in 1947.

Set in Los Angeles, In A Lonely Place was one of the first literary portraits of a serial killer.  In a vivid and fast-paced mix of first and third person views she gets deep into the mind of a murderer, detailing his confident highs and his anxious lows. Never judgemental, Hughes traces his isolated life through a period of several weeks, including his desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a normal relationship with a girl he falls for.  In the finest noir tradition, Hughes paints an intense impression of Los Angelenos going about their daily lives beneath a cloud of deepening dread as the number of murders increases and the police are unable to make a breakthrough in the case.

Her writing is clear and direct, drawing fine believable characters in swift sketches. She is expert at precisely building tension, releasing it, and then rebuilding it over and over again. How many victims are there? Can he get away with it?  Eventually, the string is pulled so taut that the end seems a relief for everyone concerned.

The 1950 Humphrey Bogart movie adaption great though it is as a noir cinema classic, makes a number of major changes to the story, and I prefer the book.

What a marvelous book this is.  I read it in three big draughts, not wanting to put it down.

Well worth the read!


Dinner Tonight #62

December 16, 2019

 

Tonight I made chicken chasseur. It worked out pretty well.  I basically used Marco Pierre White’s recipe. However as I am not, like him, sponsored by Knorr, I made my own “stockpot.”


Night Music: Here Today

December 16, 2019


Turn Corporate Taxes Into Licences

December 16, 2019

A recent story in the Washington Post and republished in Greenwich Times shows that, once again, major profitable US corporations are playing the tax code to their own advantage and to the cost of the rest of US taxpayers.

  • 91 of the Fortune 500 paid NO taxes at all on earnings of $101 billion;
  • Amazon made a profit in excess of $10 billion but received a tax rebate of $129 million;
  • Video game maker Activision Blizzard had $447 million in profits but received a tax rebate of $243 million, resulting in an effective tax rate of -54.4%.

The new Trump tax code,

“lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, but in practice large companies often pay far less than that because of deductions, tax breaks and other loopholes. In the first year of the law, the amount corporations paid in federal taxes on their incomes – their “effective rate” – was 11.3% on average, possibly its lowest level in more than three decades … [T]he new law introduced many new breaks and loopholes.”

Corporations around the world play the same tricks. Often they reside in tax havens and levy enough “corporate service charges” on their overseas subsidiaries to ensure that no taxes are paid.

And this all comes at a cost to the rest of us.  As corporate taxes fall and government deficits grow, there is increasing pressure to reduce those deficits by reducing spending on welfare services, health, and education.

Centre-right politicians have suggested that lowering corporate tax rates will encourage more companies to stay in-house as it were.  That is just an excuse to make the rich richer as the new Trump tax code proves.  There is a simpler and much more efficient way.

I suggest that corporate income taxes be eliminated completely. They should be replaced by a “license to operate” fee equal to, say, 10% of revenues earned in the country no matter where the head office is based. Simple to understand, simple to manage, and, I suspect, very difficult to get around.

Country of ownership becomes immediately irrelevant, and transfers to an offshore HQ will be pointless for tax purposes. Indeed, they may well create a double taxation situation in which those transfers become taxable revenue in the home country. It also gives corporations the right to NOT operate in any particular country if they choose to forgo the revenues.

Finally, I would make this tax law bullet-proof by including a provision that, should some smart accountant or lawyer find a loophole, then that loophole is closed retroactively to the dater of the law’s passage.

We should give this a try. It is a commonsense approach, eliminates the need for accountants, lawyers, and an army of regulators. It will produce fairness across the board.