Saturday, July 11, 2015

Catch a Wave ...

I don't think its that ghoulish of me to be in the mode of trying to see all the bands I loved when I was in my teens before they move on or stop playing and touring.  The reality is that they like me are aging but unlike me in many cases have had a much tougher time of things health wise.  Putting it another way, they are simply dying off one by one at an earlier age than maybe they would have otherwise.

The first concert I took the entire family to was The Who at Madison Square Garden in 1997.  As had been my wont, I played the band's songs endlessly at home before hand so they could get some familiarity but in the few days before the concert, it was announced that their long time bassist John Entwistle (The Ox, no less) had died of a heart attack in the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas with a hooker and undisclosed amounts of cocaine in his system.  Personally I now eat oatmeal for breakfast instead of the greasy stuff that is so bad for your cholesterol.

So its not too bad a ploy of mine and when I saw Brian Wilson would be in Toronto when I was there with Ali, I thought why not?  Interestingly he was due to be playing in the Danforth Music Hall, a small clubby sort of place.  I'd have thought he'd have been playing in a bigger or more auspicious downtown auditorium as he's such an icon.  But a more clubby atmosphere is far more conducive to great music, so I wasn't complaining.

BW himself has had some troubles in the past.  Wikipedia goes into them at far greater length than I could possibly want to (check here) but in summary: drugs, mental, parental, ego, money and litigation.  A typical rock star in fact.  However these days he's a shadow of his former self but I didn't care, I knew all the songs and was going to sing them with the rest of the audience!

BW and Al Jardine in the foreground

The only remaining family member is in the "Beach Boys" but his high school buddy Al Jardine is there beside him and as the vocalist on "Little Deuce Coupe",  "Shut You Down", "Help me Rhonda" and others, I was pretty happy about that!

Big band though.  It seems like he's dug up virtually everyone who's ever been involved with the Beach Boys and included them in the current touring party for they filled the stage.  But for 2 hours plus, it was magical.

Here's the setlist:

Our Prayer
Heroes and Villains
California Girls
Shut Down (Al Jardine vocals)
Little Deuce Coupe (Al Jardine vocals)
You're So Good to Me
I Get Around
This Whole World
Then I Kissed Her
California Saga: California
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Don't Worry Baby
One Kind of Love
Sail Away
Wild Honey
Sail On, Sailor
Wake the World
Busy Doin' Nothin'
Surf's Up
The Right Time
Wouldn't It Be Nice
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations
All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy

Our vantage

Here's a video of them playing "All Summer Long", a favourite of mine.

What a night!!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Oh Canada!

It wasn't as though I'd planned to be in Toronto on 1st July, or Canada Day, it just happened that way.  I'd seen on the internet that the Tragically Hip were playing at the Molsen Amphitheatre on the lake shore and had bought tickets for my son, Ali and I and it was only later that the penny dropped.

The Canadians really take it seriously.  Almost everyone wears something red, emblazoned with either the maple leaf, the name of the country or bizarrely a beaver.  Ali bought us red maple leaf hats at the nearby Dollar Store so we would fit in.

First up was dim sum at a place in Chinatown called Rol San on Spadina.  We had to wait as the place was totally jammed but finally made it and ordered pretty much everything on the menu.  The turnip cake was the favorite closely followed by the sticky rice.

The Chinatown parade on Canada Day
The big event of the day was in the evening, a nice and sunny yet a bit chilly one too.  Ali is an expert on public transport now so navigated us to Exhibition Place very easily on the streetcars (aka trams) and we joined the throng into the stadium area.

We found a beer tent before heading into the stadium.  The ticket said 8.30 pm start but the Hip came on bang on 9 pm and played for the next couple of hours, all their old hits too for it became quite a singalong for much of the tunes.  The Canadian audiences I think are terrific too.  Really upbeat and noisy all the time.  Made for a great atmosphere.

Fitting in with Canada cap and lumberjack shirt

For those who don't know the Hip, the link is from their early 2015 show in Toronto with them playing Poets.

Another nice thing about Toronto is that places stay open really late so after the show, Ali suggested we head to a piece of the City called Liberty Village where we found a nice roof top bar called Williams Landing, seats looking out and ate pizza and drank beers until very late.  I'd forgotten it was a Wednesday as by the look of it did many others for we didn't leave until 2 am-ish and the place was still busy.

Happy Canada Day!

Vive la Difference!

I've been traveling to Cayman since 2003, just before the big Hurricane (Ivan) that swamped the island and washed away our first office there.  Each time I return I mentally compare the situation there with that of Bermuda where I spend most time.  This isn't planned but seems to happen naturally when I am there.  They should be very alike:  they are both specks in the ocean, both Crown Colonies (one of the few remaining), they are both sunny and tourist oriented (or rather should be) and both are serious offshore financial centres.

Another way they are alike is in the dislike directed in their direction by larger onshore jurisdictions that really should know better.  Only two weeks ago, both were put on an EU black list for being involved in nefarious activities and abetting tax evasion.  Where did that come from?  Both places have spent the last 20 years bending over backwards to share information and stamp out any such activity -- which didn't actually exist in the first place.  It has always been a figment of the larger jurisdictions' imaginations.  Trouble is both are tiny and have no voice in the world compared to the larger countries.

This means both countries therefore have to take time out of turning their respective economies around to convince these other countries for the umpteenth time that they are wrong.  Bermuda has 40-something tax sharing treaties and Cayman a couple fewer -- but in Bermuda's case it seems that we missed out Estonia and probably Latvia from our TIEA list and in that process incurred the black list wrath of the EU!

We don't do business with either country, never have, so why do we need to go to that extra trouble and of course expense?

None of this seems to matter when politicians are involved for the latest survey took the opinions of half a dozen senior policy makers in each EU country asking which nations are the busiest in helping people hide money and evade tax.

Several European countries starting with Poland (thank you) subsequently distanced themselves from this ridiculously ill informed survey but it doesn't matter now.  The initial front page announcement has been made (yet again) that tarnishes our reputations.  That's what people will remember particularly as the apology and retraction will likely be published (if at all) on page 7, under the obituaries.

With this rumbling along I did a mental comparison between how Cayman and Bermuda are emerging from the financial crash in 2007/8 that decimated our economies.  Both realized that the single largest leg (international business) was not as previously supposed untouchable by world events for when Lehman went down, so did the hedge fund industry and the administrators that supported it -- based in Cayman particularly and Bermuda.

Both noted that it was important to create better diversification in the respective economies so that IB isn't as all dominant.  Both jurisdictions lost thousands of jobs mainly expatriates who worked in IB and whose impact on the economy was massive -- the trickle down effect in Bermuda is estimated at least at one to one, namely 1 expat job means another local job is created in a service industry.  I am presuming it is the same in Cayman.  With a 60,000 population in each country, this meant that the impact was/is greater than 10% of GDP.

That's a crash.

What Cayman did was to try to ditch the two-party system that led the country into that mess (recently that is) and which created gridlock. It didn't work completely but there has been an injection of new, business savvy former non-politicians into government.  In Bermuda one of the previous incumbent parties in their two-party system vaporized but found rebirth in a fashion within a new more inclusive party that took power at the last election (at about the same time as the Cayman changeover, in fact).  Both countries now had systems and the possibility to turn the tide on economic malaise.

One major difference is that Cayman has a multi-billionaire benefactor who has pumped over a billion dollars into the island in various building programs that to my mind haven't a hope of making a return for years still.  But they are working and so long as he has the patience to deal with some of the small island stuff in Cayman, he will keep on.  His new Kimpton Hotel is half built and he plans another Four Seasons Resort on Seven Mile Beach to follow close behind.  The new Kimpton Hotel will be 500+ bedrooms and will need 800+ new employees to man it.  This is a massive boost to Cayman simply in these terms without considering the impact on the wider economy, need for housing, etc.

Progress on the new Kimpton

As a result the need for increased airlift to bring the hotel stay tourists to Cayman is intense.  Ground breaking on the expansion of the airport is due to start in August.

The new dock is also at an advanced negotiation stage -- Cayman sure needs it with 4-6 cruise ships daily staying between 7 am and 6 pm.  This could start in the next year and be a multi-year project.

The Shetty Hospital that currently brings medical tourists to the island recently partnered with several US health insurers so that US patients can receive treatment at a lower cost in Cayman and be covered with their insurance -- the critical element previously missing.  Phase I has 200 beds, Phase II will break ground before the end of the year and add a further large number of beds.

Soon to be progress at the Shetty Hospital

In sum, the new Cayman government has managed a shift away from IB to a more diversified economy than before the financial crisis and have achieved a primary surplus on the economy (i.e. before debt service and capital spending) to boot.

By contrast, in Bermuda the new government is faced with opposition on every issue from a seemingly ever more divided parliament.  It almost seems to not matter what the issue is, there is very rarely bi-partisan agreement on anything.  This makes it difficult for Bermuda to take the sometimes politically sensitive hard medicine it needs to cauterize the wounds still left from the financial crisis.

The deficit has narrowed from $330 million to $260 million to be sure, but that still means new borrowing on the open market is required each year simply to keep the lights on.

If global regulation and downright opposition for financial centers tightens ever further in the future, it makes you wonder where the benefit will ultimately lay for companies to continue to do business through offshore centres like Cayman and Bermuda.

If that happens, Cayman will be in far better position to weather that particular storm.  Bermuda should take note and move in a similar direction.  America's Cup 2017 will help, but more needs to be done.

The beaches and sunsets are still beautiful!