i'm in brussels for the libre graphics meeting, which is an intense gathering of passionate programmers, articulate artists & various other inspired & inspiring folks, all working with &/or on open source software for graphics. there is so much out there now! yesterday i presented UpStage & gave a workshop - well, tried to give a workshop, but the wireless network didn't like 10 people trying to be online at once. we got cables but it didn't help. happily everyone was patient & some people did get on, & i think everyone got a reasonable idea of the project.
i'm staying with bob & liz, friends of suzon & james, conveniently close to the piano fabrik which is the venue for the meeting. i stayed here for a couple of nights in i think 2003, so even tho it's a brief & distant memory, the neighbourhood feels familiar, & i've been having great conversations with bob & liz. i haven't seen anything of brussels on this trip, beyond the few blocks from the train station to here, but i have another day after the meeting so i'll have a bit more of an explore then.
this week the nz government announced further tax cuts in its latest budget - offset by an increase in GST, from 12.5% to 15% on all sales of goods & services. those on high incomes get the largest reduction in income tax (from 38% to 33%) giving them an average $90 a week extra in the hand, while middle income earners will be only $28 better off, & will lose half of this to the GST increase. those on the lowest incomes (beneficiaries, single parents, etc) will actually need to be compensated for the GST increase to insure they aren't worse off. there are also significant tax cuts for business. the government has handsomely rewarded the top end of its voters, moving the tax burden from the wealthy to the workers; what a surprise (not!).
73% of earners in nz are now paying a mere 17.5% income tax. we already had the third lowest personal income tax rates in the world in 2005, surely now we must have the lowest. combine that with the comparatively low income level (or that's what we're told) & the logical conclusion is less tax take, less government spending. already many small things have been quietly dismantled, closed, removed. either slashes to social services, or privatisation, or both must be on the agenda.
in this situation, less really is vinegar - or more correctly, weniger; nicht mehr!
meanwhile the green party has released its alternative proposals to counter the growing inequality in new zealand. it's heartening to see an alternative to the monetarist profit-driven approach - which has already proved itself to be massively flawed. at least there are people out there presenting realistic, long-term, positive alternatives.
my deutsch-by-immersion is coming along slowly; i can now insult a bavarian in more ways than i can greet them. i'm not sure whether this says more about the type of company i'm keeping, the national bavarian character, or my own selective memory. happily so far i have only had to use the insults as terms of endearment or amusement. possibly the most useful thing i've learned recently is that "up" (spelt "ab") means down, but i've been too scared to use it because apparently "ich gehe ab" can also be used in situations of extreme ecstasy; one shouldn't say it to a stranger when they ask if the lift is going up or down. so for now i'm sticking to insults and food items.
on tuesday night we went to a performance by christoph reiserer - actually he did not perform, but it was his concept & many long days of work. four musicians (2 drummers, bassist & guitarist) improvised together for a while, then gradually the drummers dismantled their kits, placing drums around the edges of the room with little mechanical arms on them that were connected back to a central computer. it was entertaining & mysterious as sounds came from the drums all around us, & the audience twisted & turned to see, wondering what this was leading to. then the bassist laid down his instrument in a sort of metal cradle, & carefully adjusted things so that when he hit a key on a keyboard, the bass was played by a little mechanical arm. the guitarist also did this. finally, the four musicians were standing there watching their instruments being played by intricate electrical workings, all controlled by a computer that contained 8 samples recorded by the group during the earlier part of the performance. it was as if the instruments took on lives of their own, & the musicians could go, leaving the machine playing - which is what's happening for the rest of this week, as an installation in the villa stuck.
yesterday was a public holiday (they have a lot of them here) & we went to austria for the day. i don't think the novelty of being able to go to another country for a day-trip will ever wear off (where i come from it's a minimum 3 hour flight to the nearest country - it is physically possible to go there & back in a day but you wouldn't do it just for something to do on a public holiday). we went to salzburg, another novelty for me, & it was great. it was an overcast day & by late afternoon the rain had started, which meant that it wasn't too packed with tourists. i imagine on a sunny day it would be too crowded for me to enjoy. we spent hours wandering around festung hohensalzburg, the very well-preserved medieval fortress/castle, had a good wander round the old town & also checked out the very pretty graveyard at st peter's church (pictured below) & the cool catacombs dug into the solid rock cliff-face. at one point we ventured across the river & stumbled across a good covers band playing on a truck-stage. after a tasty late lunch in a building where mozart's sister lived, we went to mozart's birthplace. this is a very extensive & diverse museum, filling not just the apartment where he was born & lived for most of his childhood, but also a couple more floors below with all kinds of things - letters, portraits, sheet music, mozart's clavichord, set models from many of his operas, videos, & 3 strange/interesting rooms that i realised after were meant to have music & things happening, but weren't functioning.
because it was also a public holiday in austria, nearly all of the shops in salzburg were closed; even the trucks are not allowed to drive on public holidays (apart from those carrying food or hazardous substances) - there were big packed truck parks at the petrol stations along the autobahn. one shop that was open (i suppose because it was selling food) was a gourmet chocolate shop; one of our purchases was asparagus chocolate ("heller spargel"), which i just had to try. it's green! & it tastes good! the chocolate & asparagus flavours make an interesting sweet & savoury combination, a bit like chocolate-dipped garlic. yum : )