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Friday, November 30, 2012

"note on my ticket while @officialKeef played riff from ‘Paint It Black’: F**kin’ Great!" The @RollingStones - Branson review

wishing I was there!!!

Richard Branson reviews The Rolling Stones - Red Room -

 "note on my ticket while @officialKeef played riff from ‘Paint It Black’: F**kin’ Great!"
Eric Clapton, playing a blinder on ‘Champagne & Reefer’

“This could be the last time,” sang Mick Jagger as the Rolling Stones played yet another rock ‘n’ roll classic. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time the world’s greatest band get together onstage.
From start to finish the Rolling Stones gig at the o2 Arena was sheer magic. It was strange being there to see them live so many years after I had first seen the band play together. The best concert I ever saw was the Stones in Hyde Park, but this ran it pretty close! From the thrilling production to the high-octane set, it was a five-star performance.
With demand for tickets so high, we were very privileged to be present as Mick, Keef, Charlie, Ronnie and the gang put on their masterclass. Everyone present knew it and the atmosphere was electric. Though it was all-seated, nobody sat down during the entire set. In fact, when I went so take a seat for a moment I promptly fell flat on my arse – only reinforcing the fact that we should carry on standing up dancing!
Many dismiss older people as being past it and not having as much to offer as youngsters. However, the Rolling Stones are just as talented and exciting as they were when they were 20. If anything their musicianship has improved over the years and there is a special chemistry between the band that is irreplaceable. Despite all of their disagreements over the years, they rise above their differences to make something great.
Keith Richards is such a character, the real rogue of rock ‘n’ roll, but his guitar playing is still out of this world. He’s in great shape considering what he has put his body through. Somebody should dissect him (not yet of course!) It was great to see the former Stones members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor join them onstage too. I remember seeing Mick as a beautiful young man performing with Mike Oldfield on his Tubular Bells show at Queen Elizabeth Hall. What a talent.
There were also special guests from the old and new schools of music, with Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton, playing a blinder on ‘Champagne & Reefer’ and Florence Welch showing off her lung-busting vocals on an incendiary ‘Gimme Shelter’.
As for the song of the night? There’s so many to choose from, all the way from ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ to ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Satisfaction’ to ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. Perhaps my scribbled note on my ticket while Keef played riff from ‘Paint It Black’ sums the gig up best: F**kin’ Great!

By . Founder of Virgin Group

Richard Branson reviews The Rolling Stones - Red Room -

Thursday, November 29, 2012

‘Wine Loans’ Squeeze Liquidity from Your Cellar - US Business News - CNBC

"Since starting off he’s arranged some £20 million ($26 million) worth of loans.

"While there is no such thing as an average loan size, something in the range of £100,000 ($129,000) is probably most common. Loan duration is usually for between 12-18 months, at a rate of 15 percent. Lenders receive 12 percent, while leverage is capped at 35 percent the value of the collection.

“You’d be surprised how many people are out there with a need for short-term liquidity, which the banks just don’t want to service..."

‘Wine Loans’ Squeeze Liquidity from Your Cellar

Somewhere, on the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Léman — not far from the famous Geneva jet d’eau — is a high-security warehouse facility so robust and so discreet it’s hard to distinguish from the sort of vault that usually stores gold bullion.

Yet for Stephen Burton, the founder of wine brokerage Bordeaux Cellars, that’s not its most exciting attribute. He’s keen on the other more bespoke features, like climate control.

“Collectors want to have optimum conditions,” says Burton, a former property developer and life-long wine collector who got into the wine brokerage business about two years ago.

As he explains to FT Alphaville he’s in town to scope out the facility’s potential for warehousing rare and fine wine inventory. Though, not in connection with the brokerage side of his business.

The inventory in question, or “collateral” as Burton describes it, is actually tied to the much faster growing wine-loan side of his business — a service he started in October 2011.

As a consequence, Burton now finds himself in the business of matching the cash rich — those looking for alternatives to low-yielding investments — with the temporarily illiquid (apart from the liquid Chateau Lafite Rothschild they have parked in their cellars, that is.)

“Some people call it pawning, and to be honest we started off describing it as a peer-to-peer service, but now I really prefer to call it collateralised lending,” he says.
Wine pawning

Burton came up with idea after reading an article about the booming pawning industry and the rush for high-value security loans against such things as sports cars and art work.

“I thought, why can’t we lend against wine? After all it was a lot easier to value a bottle of Petrus than an Aston Martin and with Liv-Ex publishing current market prices across the globe, pricing is very transparent,” he says.

But what really amazes Burton is how quickly the business has taken off: “The demand has been incredible, both from borrowers and lenders.”

“Sometimes I get a placement, and it’s entirely taken within 20 minutes, ” he says.

On the lending side, Burton works mainly with rich private investors, a lot of them from Asia — where deposit rates are low, but where appreciation of fine wine is growing by the day. “There are many bankers, many of them retired,” he says.

Sometimes they pick up loans individually, other times they form semi-syndicates. The documentation is registered in the U.K. under British law, while all stock is fully delivered to the custody of the lenders .

“That’s so there’s no risk of the loan being drunk away,” laughs Burton.

On the borrowing side, he says most of his clients hail from Europe, but circumstances are varied and unpredictable.

Since starting off he’s arranged some £20 million ($26 million) worth of loans.

To his knowledge he’s the only specialist in the business, adding that he doesn’t consider the less specialized pawnbrokers major competitors because they lend against a much wider range of wines.

For Burton it’s Bordeaux, Burgundy and occasionally a rare or collectible Californian or Australian wine only. Think Romanée-Conti rather than Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Burton says he receives about 30 loan requests per month of which about 20 will have suitable stock to borrow against.

But before any loan is organized the inventory has to be meticulously valued, a process which accounts for storage conditions and ownership record.

Up to 95 percent of the stock delivered comes in original wooden cases, which is important because condition is paramount. “When I visit a private cellar it’s vital to ascertain provenance and condition of the wines,” says Burton. “We simply will not offer loans on any stock that we can’t verify correct provenance and ownership.”

“Wine has now become so valuable that most owners are fully aware of the importance of correct storage so I rarely see Chateau Petrus stored in the kitchen wine rack,” says Burton.

While there is no such thing as an average loan size, something in the range of £100,000 ($129,000) is probably most common. Loan duration is usually for between 12-18 months, at a rate of 15 percent. Lenders receive 12 percent, while leverage is capped at 35 percent the value of the collection.

“You’d be surprised how many people are out there with a need for short-term liquidity, which the banks just don’t want to service, ” says Burton.

Yet, it’s not just short-term liquidity needs that can be the driving force for a wine loan. As Burton explains, years of asset appreciation mean many long-term collectors want to unlock the purchasing power of their collections.

“Most of them would never want to drink it,” he says. “This way they can kind of have their cake and eat it.”

It’s a point of view that Burton can appreciate.

“When I bought the wine in the 1980s it was never looked upon as an investment,” he says. “It’s only in the last 15 years that this has become a serious commodity to invest in.”

“I look at the very first case of wine I bought and it’s still there and I’m never going to drink it.”

But demand can also come about the other way around.

There are, for example, more recent investors who got caught in the run-up of 2008 Chateau Lafite Rothschild prices. Having bought at £12,000 pounds at the peak, they now don’t feel comfortable selling at £6,000. Thanks to wine loans, they can free up their personal balance sheet as they wait for the market to turn around, says Burton.

With wine prices yet to recover, Burton expects the wine-loan side of the business will remain active for a good while. Hence his prospecting trip to Switzerland to secure more warehousing space.

What he saw there: approximately 80,000 bottles stored behind a 38-ton bank vault door in perfect conditions, he says.

Add that to the space offered by the three largest dedicated wine storage facilities in the U.K. — Octavian, LCB London City Bond and Vinotheque — and you’ve got the potential for some serious securitization.

Read the article online here:  Wine Loans’ Squeeze Liquidity from Your Cellar - US Business News - CNBC

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where to be born in 2013: The lottery of life | The Economist

Where to be born in 2013


The lottery of life

Nov 21st 2012 | from The World In 2013 print edition
Warren Buffett, probably the world’s most successful investor, has said that anything good that happened to him could be traced back to the fact that he was born in the right country, the United States, at the right time (1930). A quarter of a century ago, when The World in 1988 light-heartedly ranked 50 countries according to where would be the best place to be born in 1988, America indeed came top. But which country will be the best for a baby born in 2013?
To answer this, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist, has this time turned deadly serious. It earnestly attempts to measure which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.
 Its quality-of-life index links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys—how happy people say they are—to objective determinants of the quality of life across countries. Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account. They are a mixed bunch: some are fixed factors, such as geography; others change only very slowly over time (demography, many social and cultural characteristics); and some factors depend on policies and the state of the world economy.
A forward-looking element comes into play, too. Although many of the drivers of the quality of life are slow-changing, for this ranking some variables, such as income per head, need to be forecast. We use the EIU’s economic forecasts to 2030, which is roughly when children born in 2013 will reach adulthood.
Despite the global economic crisis, times have in certain respects never been so good. Output growth rates have been declining across the world, but income levels are at or near historic highs. Life expectancy continues to increase steadily and political freedoms have spread across the globe, most recently in north Africa and the Middle East. In other ways, however, the crisis has left a deep imprint—in the euro zone, but also elsewhere—particularly on unemployment and personal security. In doing so, it has eroded both family and community life.
What does all this, and likely developments in the years to come, mean for where a baby might be luckiest to be born in 2013? After crunching its numbers, the EIU has Switzerland comfortably in the top spot, with Australia second.
 Small economies dominate the top ten. Half of these are European, but only one, the Netherlands, is from the euro zone. The Nordic countries shine, whereas the crisis-ridden south of Europe (Greece, Portugal and Spain) lags behind despite the advantage of a favourable climate. The largest European economies (Germany, France and Britain) do not do particularly well. America, where babies will inherit the large debts of the boomer generation, languishes back in 16th place. Despite their economic dynamism, none of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) scores impressively. Among the 80 countries covered, Nigeria comes last: it is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013.

Boring is best

Quibblers will, of course, find more holes in all this than there are in a chunk of Swiss cheese. America was helped to the top spot back in 1988 by the inclusion in the ranking of a “philistine factor” (for cultural poverty) and a “yawn index” (the degree to which a country might, despite all its virtues, be irredeemably boring). Switzerland scored terribly on both counts. In the film “The Third Man”, Orson Welles’s character, the rogue Harry Lime, famously says that Italy for 30 years had war, terror and murder under the Borgias but in that time produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance; Switzerland had 500 years of peace and democracy—and produced the cuckoo clock.
 However, there is surely a lot to be said for boring stability in today’s (and no doubt tomorrow’s) uncertain times. A description of the methodology is available here: food for debate all the way from Lucerne to Lagos.
Laza Kekic: director, country forecasting services, Economist Intelligence Unit
from The World In 2013 print edition

International: The lottery of life | The Economist

________________________ The MasterLiving Blog

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nazis Faced Mythic Resistance, Selfish #Picasso in #Paris - Bloomberg

The French have been slow in coming to terms with one of the darkest chapters of their history, the German Occupation in World War II.

“L’Art en Guerre: France 1938-1947” at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

For many years, they cultivated the myth that, except for a few collaborators, the whole nation stood up to the invaders. More than half a century would pass before a French leader, President Jacques Chirac, publicly recognized the country’s responsibility for deporting thousands of Jews to their death.

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"Woman sitting in an armchair" (1941) by Pablo Picasso. The painting, on loan from the Henie Onstad Art Center in Hovikodden (Norway), is on view at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris through Feb 17. Source: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris via Bloomberg

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"Homo Homini Lupus" (1944-48) by Georges Rouault. The painting (Man is a Wolf to Man) depicts a hanging man in a work that symbolized France under Nazi occupation in World War II. Source: ADAGP/Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville Paris via Bloomberg

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"The Conqueror" (1942) by Joseph Steib. The painter, a retired civil servant, denounced the Nazis and their French henchmen in naive paintings not unlike ex-votos in pilgrimage churches. Source: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris via Bloomberg

“L’Art en Guerre: France 1938-1947,” at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, is the first exhibition to examine the French art scene during the Occupation without avoiding any taboos or imposing self-censorship.

The venue is well chosen. At the very same Palais de Tokyo, the Vichy regime had presented, from 1942 to 1944, French contemporary art -- without Pablo Picasso, without abstract painters, without Surrealists, without Jews.

The show starts with the big retrospective of Surrealism, organized by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp in 1938, the last highlight of the pre-war years when Paris was the undisputed art capital of the world.
Occupation Kitsch

The second room is devoted to the kitsch industry that was supposed to restore France’s battered self-esteem after the 1940 debacle -- ashtrays, pipes, and cookie jars with the portrait of the new head of state, Marshal Philippe Petain.

By then, Breton and Duchamp had fled to the U.S. with the help of Varian Fry and his Emergency Rescue Committee which also saved Max Ernst and Marc Chagall.

Not everyone was so lucky. Felix Nussbaum, Otto Freundlich and other Jewish artists from Germany were first interned in French camps and later deported to Auschwitz or Majdanek. The works they created in the camps with the primitive means at hand are the final traces of their lives.

Figures of international stature, on the other hand, were left unfettered by the occupying force. Paintings by Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, though banned in Germany as “degenerate art,” continued to be exhibited in French museums and galleries.

EvenPicasso, who stayed put in Paris, didn’t face any serious danger. Although his antipathy toward the Fascist government in his native Spain was well known, German diplomats and officers treated him with respect.
Vichy Regime

For his part, he was careful not to produce anything that might give offense to the enemy or the Vichy regime. When his friend, the poet Max Jacob, was arrested and sent to the detention camp at Drancy, he refused to use his German connections and intervene on Jacob’s behalf. Jacob died in the camp in 1944.

Georges Rouault, who had retreated to a remote village near Nantes, was a bit more courageous. His canvas “Homo Homini Lupus” (Man is a Wolf to Man), depicting a hanged man, is a lament over France’s desperate situation.

The only works in the show openly critical of the occupiers were produced by an amateur. Joseph Steib, a retired civil servant, denounced the Nazis and their French henchmen in naive paintings not unlike ex-votos in pilgrimage churches.

The opposite was more common. Maurice de Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Kees van Dongen and others gladly accepted invitations to visit the Third Reich as guests of the Nazi regime.

Vlaminck also attacked Picasso in the Comoedia weekly magazine for “having dragged French painting into the most fatal dead end, into indescribable confusion.”
Hitler’s Favorites

One showcase reminds us of the most glittering event of the Occupation years -- the 1942 exhibition at the Orangerie, attended by Le Tout Paris, of giant sculptures by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favorite artist.

It would be nice to assert that the artists who compromised themselves during the dark years produced junk and that the victims created masterpieces. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The show confirms that talent and virtue don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

When Picasso, after Liberation, re-emerged from his semi- seclusion in his studio on Rue des Grands-Augustins, he was lionized at the Salon d’Automne as a national hero. He immediately aligned himself with the new trend setters and joined the Communist Party.

“L’Art en Guerre: France 1938-1947” runs through Feb. 17, 2013. Information:

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food and Warwick Thompson on London theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

See the article online here: Nazis Faced Mythic Resistance, Selfish Picasso in Paris - Bloomberg

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index: The Biggest Winners and Losers | Daily Ticker - Yahoo! Finance

Between January and October of 2012, Ortega earned more than $18 billion -- that's around $66 million a day. During this short period he usurped Warren Buffett to become the third wealthiest person in the world with a net worth valued at $53.6 billion.

Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index: The Biggest Winners and Losers | Daily Ticker - Yahoo! Finance 

Watch out Forbes: Bloomberg recently released the Bloomberg Billionaires Index which ranks the world's billionaires on a daily, instead of yearly, basis.
The Daily Ticker sat down with Bloomberg Billionaires Editor Matt Miller to discuss who the big winners and losers were, new additions to the index, and what billionaires can teach us about our own finances.
Money can't buy happiness goes the old adage, but if it could Amancio Ortega would be floating on cloud nine.
Ortega is a relatively obscure 76-year-old retail magnate and founder of the Spanish company Inditex SA. Inditex owns and operates various clothing brands with over 5,402 stores around the globe; the crown jewel of Inditex is Zara, which has over 1,600 store locations.
Between January and October of 2012, Ortega earned more than $18 billion -- that's around $66 million a day. During this short period he usurped Warren Buffett to become the third wealthiest person in the world with a net worth valued at $53.6 billion.
Ortega was born to a impoverished railway worker and had to drop out of school at 13 to work. He began as a delivery boy for a clothing shop and worked his way up to become a salesperson. While working retail Ortega had the idea to sell inexpensive versions of quilted bathrobes, claiming it was unfair that only wealthy woman could afford to dress well. He used this as the founding principle behind the rest of his retail ventures and built his empire on top of it.
Ortega's rapid gain corresponds with a general rise in retail stocks. Cheap supplies and increasing demand for moderately priced clothing have made it a good year for retailers. Nine out of the world's 25 richest people made their fortunes in retail, according to the Bloomberg Index.
Physics tells us that what goes up must come down and unfortunately that's exactly what happened to some billionaires' fortunes this year.
Ricardo Salinas Pliego who runs Grupo Elektra in Mexico is the biggest loser on the list. Pliego lost $9.1 billion year-to-date. His net worth is now $11.7 billion, making him the eightieth richest person in the world. The banking and media tycoon has seen the value of his stock holdings nearly cut in half since April 2012.
Another famous loser is Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
Before Facebook's IPO, Zuckerberg was estimated to be worth up to $20 billion. The social network's stock has underperformed since its May stock market debut Zuckerberg's net worth has dropped by $10.7 billion. But he's still the world's 88th richest person.
Bloomberg was able to uncover ten new billionaires who had never before been on an international wealth ranking.
Dirce Navarro de Camargo has become Brazil's wealthiest woman after inheriting her late husband's industrial empire, Camargo Correa SA. Camargo is the world's 60th richest person with a net worth of $13.1 billion.
Elaine Marshall owns a 15% stake in Koch Industries, with a net worth of $12.9 billion. She ranks as the 69th richest person in the world. Marshall, who is America's 4th richest woman, inherited the shares from her late husband, E. Pierce Marshall.
Marshall's last public appearance was in 1994 when her father-in-law's widow, Anna Nicole Smith, became entangled in a long legal battle over his trust. Marshall was ultimately granted his shares in Koch and now lives a quiet life in Dallas, Texas.
"Billionaires do not become billionaires by getting into a diversified mutual fund or investing in an ETF or investing in the S&P Index Fund," Miller tells The Daily Ticker. "You get rich by building equity in a very concentrated position that is typically one big company."
Most billionaires are also in the retail or commodity industries, he says. "Retail is a huge presence," Miller notes, adding that 26 billionaires on Bloomberg's list started their careers in retail.
Twenty-two billionaires on the list have made their fortunes in technology, and 14 are a part of a family business.
Overall, "it's been a great year for billionaires," Miller says. "If you look at the top 100 everyday, traditionally they've been up. The S&P is up for the year and private fortunes track public markets."

Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index: The Biggest Winners and Losers | Daily Ticker - Yahoo! Finance

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

$375.1 Million Contemporary #Art Sale Is #Sotheby’s Record -

a 1954 Mark Rothko oil brought $75.1 million
Sotheby's, Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The highlight of Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art on Tuesday, “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue),” a 1954 Mark Rothko oil, brought $75.1 million.
$375.1 Million Art Sale Is Sotheby’s Record

“I have all the time in the world,” Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s principal auctioneer, said on Tuesday night as he leaned over the lectern and flashed a smile at Lisa Dennison, the auction house’s chairwoman. She was on the telephone, trying to draw a higher bid from a client. Two tenacious collectors were competing to take home “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue),” a classic Mark Rothko painting from 1954 that is also a conspicuous example of what dealers like to call “wall power,” and the bidding was already at $61 million.

The painting ended up selling to another mystery telephone bidder for $67 million, or $75.1 million including Sotheby’s fees.

The Rothko was the high point in a contemporary art sale of exceptionally strong prices and spirited bidding that ultimately made $375.1 million, the highest total for any sale in Sotheby’s history, beating the previous record of $362 million set in May 2008.

After last week’s disappointing auctions of Impressionist and modern art, it was also a night of great relief for the international group of collectors and dealers who packed Sotheby’s salesroom.

“There were huge prices,” Allan Schwartzman, a Manhattan art adviser, said toward the end of the sale. “It was all about fast money looking for places to park.”

Shortly before the Rothko sold, Jackson Pollock’s drip painting “Number 4, 1951” — a layered patchwork of red, blue, yellow, green and ocher oil paints, metallic aluminum and flecks of shiny black enamel — which was expected to bring $25 million to $35 million, sold to Ms. Dennison, bidding on behalf of her telephone client, for $36 million, or $40.4 million with fees, a record for the artist at auction. (Final prices include the buyer’s commission to Sotheby’s: 25 percent of the first $50,000; 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

Of the 69 works on offer, only 11 failed to sell.

Four bidders went for Bacon’s “Untitled (Pope)” from 1954, which had been expected to sell for $18 million to $25 million, but sold to a telephone bidder for $26.5 million, or $29.7 million including Sotheby’s fees.

Not everything topped expectations. Gerhard Richter, the 80-year-old German artist, currently holds the title of the most expensive living artist at auction, after a painting belonging to Eric Clapton sold at Sotheby’s in London last month for $34.2 million. Richter’s prices have been rising ever since a recent traveling retrospective that went to the National Gallery in Berlin, the Tate Modern in London and the Pompidou Center in Paris. On Tuesday, Sotheby’s had a 1990 Richter that was estimated to bring $15 million to $18 million.

Perhaps there are just too many examples of the artist’s work — Christie’s has several on offer at its sale on Wednesday night — and this painting had only one bidder, who was willing to pay $15 million, or $17.4 million including fees.

The sale also included several Warhol paintings from the 1960s. “Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice),” a 1963 work based on a photograph of a brutal car crash, went for $15.2 million. The buyer was Peter Brant, the newsprint magnate, who is a large Warhol collector. Great works on paper by Warhol are rare, and on Tuesday night three of them, also from the 1960s, brought strong prices. Top among them, “Suicide,” a gruesome image of a man jumping to his death that was expected to bring $6 million to $8 million, went to Philippe Ségalot, a Manhattan dealer, for $16.3 million — a record for a work on paper by the artist. (Sotheby’s previously sold it in 1992 for $132,000.) As the dealers and collectors were milling outside of Sotheby’s toward the end of the evening, many said they were amazed at how strong the results were, given the shaky economic picture around the world. “It was surprising,” Mr. Ségalot said. “But Sotheby’s had works that were fresh to the market and they put them in the beginning of the sale. That set the tone for the rest of the evening.”

See the article online here: $375.1 Million Contemporary Art Sale Is Sotheby’s Record -

Monday, November 12, 2012

U.K.: London's Iconic Black Cabs Face Uncertain Future |

Is This the End for London’s Black Cabs?

2012 Olympic Games - Closing Ceremony
Getty Images, Scott HeaveyThe London black cab taking part in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in London on Aug. 12, 2012
The gleaming black cabs that grace the streets of the British capital have become a London icon. From the London Olympics opening ceremonies to Spice Girls music videos, the black cab is a sign of all things British. But the long-standing reign of these vehicles may be coming to an end.
Manganese Bronze, the company that has been making black cabs since 1948, has declared bankruptcy, putting nearly 300 jobs at risk. Talks to secure the funds needed to save the ailing manufacturer have ended in failure. The company, based in Coventry, England, has had a difficult year. In October it was forced to take 400 cabs off the roads after discovering a steering fault. In a statement, Manganese has said that the group will continue to operate during the bankruptcy process and would make a “speedy” resolution of the recall a top priority, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
The possible demise of the cabs’ manufacturer marks the end of more than a century of the historic vehicles’ presence on the streets of London. While motorized taxis have plied the streets of London since the beginning of the 20th century, the black cab as we know it was introduced in the late ’50s — a vehicle that featured fully hydraulic brakes and signature “bunny ears” turn indicators. It quickly became famous for its ability to maneuver through the narrow, congested streets of the British capital, with a turning radius of just 25 ft. — a requirement for city vehicles that dates back to 1906, when cars needed to be able to navigate the minute roundabout at the entrance to the Savoy hotel.
The car’s ability to negotiate London’s small avenues has made it a particularly attractive option for celebrities trying to avoid the eye of the paparazzi. Model Kate Moss and actor Stephen Fry reportedly own their own personal black cabs, as does the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Arnold Schwarzenegger even ordered a fleet of black taxis to be transported all the way to California.
The iconic London black-cab model, the Austin FX4, entered service in 1958 and is the longest surviving British vehicle after the Land Rover. It was replaced in 1991 by the TX1, a more modern car that reflects the shape of the traditional FX4. But Manganese Bronze no longer has a monopoly on London cabs; with drivers now also allowed to use the Mercedes Vito, a six-passenger minivan, the company has failed to turn a profit since 2007.
John Russell, the head of Manganese, has vowed to keep the troubled group’s meter running but warned that it was in a “very uncertain situation,” according to the Daily Mail. Today there are more than 20,000 licensed black cabs serving the streets of London.

U.K.: London's Iconic Black Cabs Face Uncertain Future |

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nigerian #music: The immortal #Fela #Kuti | The Economist

Fela Kuti Attaakk!!

The immortal Fela Kuti

FELA KUTI’s electrifying performances, seismic music and defiant lifestyle gave him a worldwide following. Fearlessly confronting the Nigerian establishment through his music, he was a thorn in the flesh of every military and civilian despot that occupied Nigeria’s presidential seat during his adulthood. Now, 15 years after his death, the authorities he so often railed against have helped honour the King of Afrobeat.
A new museum in Lagos opened in October at the start of a week-long annual “Felabration” to mark what would have been his 74th birthday. The three-storey building hidden in the backstreets of Lagos, now the home of the museum, grew famous as a hub of raucous dissent during his 27 years of running resistance against successive Nigerian dictators. The commune and self-declared republic housed a recording studio and many of the musicians and dancers connected to his band. The Lagos State Government, now recognising his cultural significance, has chipped in with a grant of $250,000.
Inside, album covers and murals adorn the walls, with old family photographs embellishing the staircase as you climb up to a rooftop bar. A room is devoted to Fela’s eclectic wardrobe, where a collection of his vibrant shoes line an entire wall. Colourful underpants, sometimes the only thing he wore, sit on hangers, including a pair covered with a purple dancing image of “Barney the Dinosaurs”. His bedroom, preserved as a shrine since he died of AIDS in 1997, contains his flamboyant shirts, a mattress and a few modest belongings. His saxophone sits alone on the floor.
Fela’s creation of “Afrobeat” in the 1960s is a brew of traditional African drumming, funk and highlife, punctuated with simple shrill vocals and solo interventions from his saxophone. His irrepressible rebelliousness and determination to champion the cause of Nigeria’s underdogs through his music earned him physical punishment, brutal military and police raids and numerous arrests. “He fought for the common man, for the issues we faced everyday,” says Elizabeth Bassey, a Fela fan who was rifling through a pile of old records in a music shop in Lagos. “But he paid a steep price for it.”
Fela Kuti named the commune after his first prison cell.“The idea of creating a place open to every African escaping prosecution began taking shape in my mind,” he writes in his biography (“Fela: This Bitch of a Life”), after he returned from a tour of the United States. But the commune did not enable him to escape prosecution and became a battleground where he and the authorities fought it out.
In 1977, his smash hit “Zombie”, in which he used the phrase “Zombie no go walk unless you tell am to walk” to describe the brutal methods of Nigeria’s military with the cutting lyrics, led to a vicious attack on the Kalakuta Commune in the same year. Hundreds of soldiers descended on the compound, severely beat Fela and threw his mother out of a first-floor window. The Kalakuta Republic was razed and his studio, instruments and master tapes were destroyed.
His alternative lifestyle aroused the Nigerian authorities’ violent hostility. Often appearing with cigar-sized marijuana spliffs defiantly held between his fingers, he rejected Nigeria’s two main religions, Christianity and Islam; instead he worshipped ancestors and married 27 women. Newspaper cut-outs and extracts from his manifesto, framed in the museum, chronicle his battle against corruption and social injustice as well as his constant scrapes with the law. He is said to have appeared in court 356 times in 25 years.
His memory lives on. The New Afrika Shrine, Fela’s famed nightclub, attracts fans from Nigeria and beyond, who dance to the spellbinding Afrobeat rhythms until sunrise.“I come here every week, lots of these people do,” says Osas, dragging on a huge spliff, as he leans on a sign saying, “Drugs are not allowed in the Shrine”. “The issues of corruption and frustration that he sang about still strike a chord with Nigerians today,” he adds. “Just goes to show that some things never change.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Learning a Foreign #Language Is Like Learning a #Sport - The Atlantic

Learning a Foreign Language Is Like Learning a Sport

The long road to not sucking at French


We had a debate a few weeks ago about athletics and education. I was making the case that the old notion that only people who excel at sports should be urged to participate is pretty horrific. The phrase "Physical Education" should have actual meaning. Moreover, I think people should be encouraged to continue their "Physical Education" throughout their lives, just a surely as they should be encouraged to continue their "Intellectual Education" throughout their lives. It's certainly true that everyone can't be NCAA-caliber point guard, or a great marathoner. It's also true that everyone can't be a great literary critic or playwright. That is no excuse to not read Shakespeare. 

One of the things I've noticed in my studies of French is how much it resembles my studies of athletics. Predictably, I struggle in both athletics and foreign language. But one of the great lessons of my childhood was that no one has the right to be naturally good at anything. More there's a particular pleasure that comes from becoming good at something which you kind of naturally sucked at. I played the djembe as a kid. I had a pretty good ear for rhythm, but no physical coordination. I could hear what I wanted to play, but my imagination exceeded my abilities. For the first year I did it, I sucked. 

But after a year of practice in my parents garage I came to suck a lot less, and by the time I gave up the instrument I had risen to the ranks of the "Merely OK." But I didn't feel "Merely OK." I felt like a king, because I knew from whence I came. I knew that great distance (and it is great) between "Utter Suckage" and "Merely OK." So while I believe in natural talent, I've never seen much point in talking about it. Generally if I decide I want to acquire a skill, I don't see much point in talking about "aptitude." I have chosen the road. Now it's time to walk.

In that vein, it is the physicality, the theatricality of foreign language study that shocks me. To speak French you need a different mouth. Your lips and tongue must live somewhere else--even when resting--then where they live in English. When an American is trying to think of something she often goes "Uhh, Uhh." But the French will say something like "Euh, Euh." (Or some such.) This acquiring of of a new mouth is a physical act. It is not enough to memorize the words. You have to train your mouth to say them. It's like weight-lifting. Your mouth and tongue need "reps."

And this acquiring of a new mouth has a way of spreading over a person's entire face. If you ever talk to someone who is fluent in two languages, while you are fluent in one but just grasping at the other, you will have the sense of talking to two different people in the same body. The thoughts may be universal--but the face, the tongue, the mouth--the very lens through which the light of soul is refracted, is different. It is the oddest thing.

So the journey continues. Jim Fallows told me when I started that this could easily take five years. I am thinking it could easily take ten. But he also told me that (much like his wife) I would have a book when I was done. That'd be awesome.

Learning a Foreign Language Is Like Learning a Sport - The Atlantic


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