Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Favourite Photos, Part 3

The other day, I was copying some pictures onto a digital frame we're giving somebody for Christmas, and I came upon several sets of pictures that I had never loaded onto my computer. It's like a Pre-Christmas, getting to look at them all for the first time in years. And while most of them are uninteresting or only mildly interesting, or only interesting to us for the sake of the memories, some of them are actually meritorious on their own. Not great art, mind you: but good pictures.

This picture of a couple of clowns taking a break from working the crowd at Main Street Days in Grapevine, Texas, in 2005 gives me a smile.
Grand Teton N.P., October 2005
I don't know what this is supposed to mean....
Grand Teton National Park is the most beautiful place I've seen in an entire world full of beautiful places. This picture is from my first trip there, and unfortunately this is the only shot any of us got when the weather could remotely have been called cooperative.

The terraces at Mammoth Springs, in Yellowstone National Park.
We don't have magpies in Texas. I first saw them in Europe, and was surprised to see them in the American west. I was even more surprised at how close they'd let me get.
This is in Dinosaur National Monument, in Utah and Colorado, in 2005. I love the way the lines of colour run through the rocks.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Terri Hendrix at the Little Carver Center

Songwriting is a tough craft to master. A few people are born with great natural talent in that direction, honed and nurtured to an art, like Cohan and Gerswin and Paul Simon and Lennon and McCartney (together; separately, neither attained the highest level). Others strive and strain for years, for decades, and are lucky to produce one or two songs where everything comes together. Meanwhile, they create as best they can, and when their work is performed, they're subjected to critiques from people like me, who have some idea of the work involved, but have long since given up the attempt. Still, you don't have to be Paul Simon to recognize  quality in the work.

Performing is another tough craft to master. To get up on stage in front of any number of strangers and sing, or play, or both, is too terrifying for most of us to contemplate. Some people are lucky: they are at home on stage. Most of them are better on stage than off, as anyone who's watched very many interview programs can attest. 

Terri Hendrix
I took in a performance tonight by Terri Hendrix, a local singer-songwriter that my Significant Other happens to like. Myself, I was never that wild about her work, though a couple of songs made it into the mix of a thousand or so pieces that I carry in my cars to listen to on the road. She has a very good voice and a tremendous range, and shows it off to good effect in her performance. Her songwriting is good, even if it lacks a certain lyricism and uses more spoken lines than I would like. And on occasion, she is at the top of her craft and gets everything just right. 

Watching her, I'm amazed how comfortable she is while singing and playing, yet how uncomfortable she is between songs. Her voice quavers as she talks -- mostly to fill the time while instruments are tuned, but it'd be nice if she didn't give away the whole story of the upcoming song; it ruins the mystique -- and she fidgets with equipment and instruments to distraction. Still, the effect is to bring the audience closer to her, as if she's just the neighbor's kid instead of some kind of Performer With A Capital P.

I don't know if the Little Carver Center theater is a good venue for her, I think. It's clearly a step up in class from roadhouses and dance halls, but I'm not sure if that's a step she really wants to take. With its Rotary International chairs and cocktail tables, it makes even this sandal-clad audience a tad reserved. I suspect that seeing Terri Hendrix at a place like Casbeer's would be a whole lot more fun, for her and for her audience. Still, there are those of us who would never go to a place like Casbeer's, or Gruene Hall, or Floore's. And maybe it's a nice change for her to play to an audience that isn't rowdy and unrestrained. I don't know.

Lloyd Maines on guitar, John Silva hiding behind him, Terri
Hendrix, and Glenn Fukunaga hiding behind her.
One other thing: she should get a better photographer. (Not me, obviously.) When she came out on stage, I thought, having seen her photo in the program, that the woman at the mike was some hot young '09-er come to make the introduction, and to be seen.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Simple Approach

Congress has a real knack for complicating relatively simple things. The current self-generating controversy is the effect of the automatic tax increase Congress itself voted into being in the orgiastic Bush years. As you may recall, they included a "sunset" provision in order to get the tax cuts through. For Democrats, it saved face by making the tax cuts they opposed temporary; for the Republicans, it saved face by making the budget numbers seem more palatable.

Now the sun is setting, and both parties -- are there any greater collections of self-serving nitwits anywhere? -- are fumbling around trying to gore other people's oxen. It resembles nothing so much as a Monty Python sketch, except that it's not, when you get right down to it, really funny. 

I hope the sun does set on the Bush tax cuts, especially the travesty of the Estate Tax reductions. Some of us recall that our ancestors -- well, not mine, specifically, but "ours" in the national-history sense -- fought hard to get the Estate Tax put in to end the era of the Robber Barons, who accumulated wealth and passed it on intact from generation to generation. Admittedly, the tax scheme it evolved into over the course of decades of Congressional tinkering at the behest of one special interest after another was incoherent, unfair, impractical and barely effective -- it didn't so much break up great estates as ossify them in "charitable" foundations that operate, as much as anything else, for the aggrandizement and comfort of the would-be heirs -- but it was, at least, better than nothing; which is what we now have (at least until January 1).

Here, Congress, is what you do:  Democrats, especially in the Senate, where you still have a majority, let the Bush tax cuts expire. Most people won't see a really significant rise in their tax liabilities, just as they didn't really see a great decrease in liability back when the tax cuts took effect. Most people didn't make enough to benefit much from the cuts back then, and they don't make enough to be hurt much by the coming tax increase. Then, after the sunset provision has done its laudable work, undoing the mess y'all made of things eight years back, you can introduce a more targeted tax cut bill. Raise the zero-bracket amount; that will benefit everybody, rich and poor, equally. Raise the tax brackets across the board, so that most people see lower rates on their last dollar earned. Tax unearned income -- dividends and interest and capital gains -- at the same rate as earned income. (I'm shooting my own horse, there, but fair is fair.) Keep the mortgage-interest deduction if it's politically necessary -- it's not, but we can pretend -- and the child-care credit and the earned income credit. All those things are expensive sops that allow us to pat ourselves on the back and say what good people we are, taking care of poor folk and all.

Then -- and this is the kicker -- do two more things. 

First, limit the amount of compensation -- not wages or salary, mind you, but all compensation -- to any one individual that a business can deduct as a necessary business expense. Businesses can still pay exorbitant salaries to important people, either because they're actually that much in demand in the labor market or because they own the company; they just won't be able to make the rest of us finance their generosity. It may be simplest to peg the allowable deduction to median income, but it'd be better, I think, to make it a multiple of the lowest compensation amount a company pays. Thus, the more they screw their janitors and security guards with low wages (and wages paid by subcontractors count), the less they'll be able to write off as compensation to the Vice-President of Overseas Graft. There really is no reason why V-POG should make thousands of times what the night janitor makes; a hundred and fifty times as much should suffice.

Second, limit still further amounts paid in compensation to persons, subcontractors, or subsidiaries outside the United States. This, combined with current foreign-investment provisions, will prevent the flight of capital to foreign countries in the form of excessive payments. Exceptions could be made where a particular necessary service or product is only available from a foreign source, but the truth is, payments for commodities and foreign production wages aren't really a problem; nor will they be under this scheme.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carpe Shotgun

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. Let's hope the biennial recrudescence of our representative democracy are able to give some thought to issues larger than themselves in considering extending some or all of those cuts. 

But whether they do or don't -- and they won't -- I see an opportunity. One of the vile changes made by those tax cuts was the gradual reduction of the Estate Tax, to the point where anyone dying in 2010 (that's this year, y'all) has no federal estate tax liability, no matter how much their estate is. If this enactment is not extended, on January 1, 2011, the Estate Tax top rate goes back to where it was ten years ago; if memory serves, it topped out at 55% for large estates.


Do you have a rich ancestor, from whom you expect to inherit at least eight figures when he or she kicks the bucket? Then you may want to take advantage of this offer. For a price, sufficient to cover my bail and pay my lawyers through trial, appeal, and re-trial; grease a few palms down at the capitol; and endow a bank account in St. Kitts and Nevis, I'll knock off the old buzzard before the end of the month, saving you, potentially, millions of bucks in Estate Tax payments. All you have to do is give me cash up front, send the servants out for the evening, and leave the front door unlocked and a nice car in the driveway with a full tank and the key in the ignition. I'd prefer Porsche, but any European luxury roadster will do. 

Place your orders now; there's not a lot of time before Uncle Sam gets to take his share again, and I expect a lot of action as the deadline -- tee hee --- gets nearer.