Tax Collectors and Censors

For years, in a bid to augment annual tax revenue for European governments, the EU has been wanting to tax its digital economy more severely. Additionally, the existence of low-tax countries in a generally heavily taxed continent has made European lawmakers more adamant in their determination to adjust and/or harmonize tax rates.
Whereas previously VAT, Value Added Tax, a Good and Services Tax, was applied based on the seller’s country, new EU fiscal rules regarding the taxation on digital products will determine VAT rates according to the buyer’s country. So where we live will decide which VAT rate we pay.
The new VAT rules will affect amongst others purchases of e-books and music, internet calling services, smart phone applications, cloud storage and movie streaming. Its implementation so far remains unclear.
Some argue that the new VAT legislation will help level the playing field for national online retailers. Even so, it will make things a lot more complex for small businesses which will need to track and collect a wide range of tax rates depending on where their customers are based.

Caveat venditor.

Traditionally and for practical reasons, people generally buy their goods close to where they live. Online shopping has made it possible to buy even closer to home. From home. Goods and prices can be compared, bought and tried and returned. Still, international online shopping can be a hassle. For reasons unclear and unknown, certain items do not ship internationally. Shipment costs and custom clearance can be off-putting. Return policies often remain an obstacle. Digital purchases however are not subjected to such problems. Immediate, safe, un-physical. The click-buy. Finger fast. And, of course, price driven. So, in come the big boys.

Apple, Amazon, Google, often lodged in low tax zones, accused of brutal working conditions and exploitation, have changed the market place beyond recognition. Change, on a massive scale and as an industrialized process is scary. Being made possible thanks to new technology makes it more than scary. It makes the change elusive. Especially for politicians and bureaucrats who operate with mindsets, stuck in the past, and ambitions limited by the short-term.
Naturally, there is something noble, something Robin Hoodish about taking on the big boys. Only this time, Robin Hood looks dangerously like the tax collector.

Tell me where you live and I tell you what you pay. Tell me where you live and I tell you … something else.

Across the Channel, a shift in Britain’s laws regarding pornography means that all online video on demand pornography will be judged the same as pornography sold legally in stores on DVDs. Hence online porn will become subject to the restrictions of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). The new laws will ban various acts being depicted in online pornography produced in the United Kingdom. Acts that could be ‘banned’ under the law include: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object “associated with violence”, physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if consensual), urolangia (known as “water sports”), female ejaculation, strangulation, facesitting and fisting.
The change in law does not make it illegal for people to watch videos produced outside Britain or to perform the acts themselves. Thus it is not expected to affect consumers. It will however cause problems for British pornography producers and websites.

Caveat fornicator?

As with the VAT, nobody really knows how these new pornography laws are going to be enforced.
But neither the tax collector nor the censor can be deterred. He caught on. His teeth solidly in the consumer’s flesh.
Taxation is an obscure field. A mine field. Better left to specialists. For once, one could probably argue the same for pornography.

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La Bella Ragazza

Lisa_and_her_Sax_by_simpson_freakAdolphe Sax, musician, musical instrument designer and most of all, inventor of the saxophone, was born on the 6th of November 1814 in Dinant, a city on the Meuse, at the time no longer French, barely Dutch and on the brink of becoming Belgian.
Sax was a designer, a creator, an innovator. A man who liked to experiment, a man whose life read like a book, who was forgotten and then finally revived by the American jazz world, albeit without personal recognition.
Now, 200 years later, this has changed.
Approaching the eve of his birthday, the City of Bolzano paid homage to Sax by staging a unique event in the town main square, starring Urban Sax, the teeming musical ensemble, directed by Gilbert Altman.

Bolzano.
Full of anticipation I step into the chilly autumn evening to join my friends, Piazza Walther. As I close my front door behind me, a man on the other side of the street turns towards me, stops in his tracks and shouts “che bella ragazza” in my direction, followed by something about the planned concerto.

He is an old man of the upright variety, well dressed, with a good-natured smile. Clearly unthreatening. Old. Elderly.

And I am no spring chicken.
I walk along, unfazed. Still, for a moment my mind dwells on the recent Hollaback! video, recently shot in New York. The girl in the video was young, the men intimidating, the shouts crude and vulgar. An ominous example of urban sexual impropriety.

Street harassment is an expression of gender-based intimidation and violence; an ongoing, persistent phenomenon, ubiquitous, rife. Ugly.

It is always good to know that there are people, groups and movements who have your back, who create awareness and support, develop tools and strategies, empowering targets and victims against unwanted acts and conduct. Hollaback! is such a movement and despite recent criticism, not in the least regarding the racial politics of said video, the long overdue debate has gathered momentum. Still,

‘che bella ragazza’ is not a violation, it is not an obscenity.

At most the words form an unwelcome invasion of my anonymity, of my space. Uncalled for, in view of our age even slightly pathetic, a sad need for attention, an urge to play and flirt regardless of age? Whatever it was, it was not a catcall. A compliment? Maybe.

Arriving at the Piazza, the concert has just started. Crowded, colorful, a burst of energy. Altman meets Daft Punk meets Cirque du Soleil meets the saxophone. Not merely a concert, rather a large-scale street performance of performance art.
A happening, a joy, an ode.
Compliments are never wasted, so, to Mr. Altman and his performers and to the city of Bolzano, “Complimenti!”

PS

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I have this thing about saxophone players, especially tenor sax. I don’t know what it is but they just curdle me.
Sugar Kane Kowlczyk

Clowns and Pumpkins

Partly and allegedly inspired by a clown prank video created last May by two men from Magione, Italy, it seems that the evil clown craze, spreading through a number of cities in Europe, the UK and the US needed a lengthy incubation period. Or did it?

People in scary clown costumes, intimidating and often assaulting innocent citizens. Criminal? Sinister? Undoubtedly. But also ill timed.

Days grow colder and shorter, nights seem darker and more ominous. The shadow of Allhallowtide lies upon us.
Traditionally, Allhallowtide, All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, marks the period during which Christians commemorate the dead. It is a three day festival, a feast, a blend of vigil, prayer, commemoration, fear and mockery.
Not original, nor exclusive.
Día de Los Muertos, Hungry Ghost, Obon, are all but different names for the same days of observance, for the same need to honor the departed and to remind ourselves of the ephemerality of life.

But piousness and devoutness are often accompanied by irreverence, with paganism and idolatry just around the corner.

It is believed that at Halloween ‘the veil betweenCRI_149833-1 this world and the next is at its thinnest’, creating a magical moment, when the boundaries of time and space are blurred, when ‘we of the mundane world’ can commune with ‘they of the nether world’. Trick or treat, the donning of masks to disguise our identity, lanterns to frighten off evil spirits…

 

… ‘Happy Halloween’ is born.

Carved out pumpkins, witches hats, white sheets, ghoulish make-up. Scary with a touch of humour. Frightening with a sense of fun. At its best, it is all about candy and dressing up for the kids and inventing a new orange coloured cocktail for the adults.
For me, black squid ink risotto will do the trick, followed by a wide-smiling selfie as the treat. Sometimes, Halloween can be synonym of horror.

Which reminds me, in Japan, McDonalds has launched the squid ink burger, just in time.
And Ronald, I hear you ask?
Well, there are no clowns at Halloween.

 

Se non è vero, è ben trovato

A shrinking economy, the downward spiral of the deficit, a debt in the area of 137% of GDP, ‘lo Spread’ above 170 basis points, the alarming rate of ‘disoccupazione’, especially amongst the young, the growing fear of investor’s confidence or lack thereof, the addictive personality of Matteo Renzi and his compulsive promise-laden rhetoric on a budget reform; a combination of extra spending and tax cuts, a clash with regional authorities, a need for electoral, judicial and labor market reforms, the shadow of Berlusconi, the decibels of Beppe Grillo, the tragedy of Lampedusa. It could make for a dire picture of this Bel Paese.
But Italy would not be Italy if there was not another picture. And there is.

In pure Italian style, the63 Raffaello-la fornarina picture is that of a woman. Margherita Luti. But you would know her as La Fornarina, a baker’s daughter from Siena, model, lover, perhaps wife of Raphael.

La Fornarina is housed in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. It is, compared to the more seemly La Donna Velata in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, an intriguingly seductive painting and has, since its first public appearance been subject to much speculation.
I had not thought of Margherita until a recent visit to Mantova.
Located in Lombardy, city of Virgil, Baldassare Castiglione, Monteverdi and the Gonzaga family, city of exile for Romeo, Mantova is now, together with Sabbioneta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boasting the Piazza Sordello, the Palazzo Ducale, the Bibiena Theatre, the Palazzo Te, Mantova is also home of the iconic pumpkin, of tortelli di zucca, risotto alla pilota, luccio -pike – in salsa, the crumbly sbrisolona torta, and various types of mostarda, originally a side dish prepared with sour apples and pears, sugar and mustard liquid.

Culture and cuisine. What else?

In Mantova, a guide book is better left behind. The city is small and welcoming. Cultural sites and culinary delights are abundant. A Saturday market, pasticcerias, fornerias, gelaterias, trattorias, a corner bar, an old albergo. And despite dusty corridors, redundant, often sulky museum guards and piles of unsightly non collected trash – a distinct neo-European inner city feature – Mantova, like so many other Italian cities epitomizes something forgotten about this Bel Paese and reminds us of what Italy once was, occasionally is and could, once again, be.
Granted, the present-day baker’s daughter does not sit for the contemporary Raphael. Seldom this sensual, rarely exposing their breasts, still, the salesladies at the fornerias and pasticcerias present us with something nobody will ever tire of.

A passion for a product. The knowhow of a delicacy. Talent and skill.

A mixture of melancholy and perfection. Kind, pleasing and pleasant. Certain in its heritage, confident in its expertise.
Like La Fornarina. Similarly tempting, irresistibly flirtatious, the indistinguishable image of simplicity and perfection.
A Bel Paese. Like we read it, dream it, desire it.
A heavenly antidote to the direness.
Se non è vero, è ben trovato.