Monday, 22 December 2014

If True....

Scotland

Hmmm. I am not all sure I fancy that. Perhaps I now know how the Scots feel?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Film reviews: Nativity 2 and Nativity 3.

The first Nativity! film is a very pleasant, middle of the road English film, worth watching. Does have one classic line in it.

I agreed with my kids that we would watch Nativity 2 on DVD first and then go and watch Nativity 3 the next day, which we did.
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Nativity 2 is miles better than the original, it is a proper film. There are various equally important strands to the plot.

1. Like all good Xmas films, there are "journeys", be that a literal journey; an emotional journey or the characters overcoming a series of obstacles to achieve their goal. For example, Schwarzenegger trying to get hold of a Turbo Man, Kevin fighting off burglars or Kevin's mum/family making a nigh impossible journey to be reunited with Kevin. See also Planes, Trains & Autombiles (for Thanksgiving read Xmas). And there has to be a happy yet tear-jerking ending.

2. Nativity 2 does all of those and more:

- The bromance between the strait laced new teacher Mr Peterson and Mr Poppy, the anarchic classroom assistant.

- Mr Peterson is happily married and his wife is expecting a baby, so she gets a bit upset when he goes missing (having been effectively kidnapped, robbed and his mobile 'phone destroyed).

- The bitter rivalry between Mr Peterson and his far more successful twin brother (which leads to the inevitable confusion comedy);

- Mr Peterson's openly disapproving father who calls him a disappointment to the family, to the embarrassment of the long suffering Mrs Peterson.

- The rivalry between the posh school and Mr Poppy's state school (continued from first film)

- Mr Poppy has the insane idea of his class/school taking part in a Xmas song competition in Wales, so there is an epic road trip. Without any parental consent, they set off in a (probably stolen) amphibious bus; kidnap Mr Peterson, a baby to use as a stage prop and later on a girl from the rival school; motor across a lake to escape somebody or other; run out of fuel just before they reach the opposite shore; steal a donkey; steal two boats; hide in a cave; climb a high mountain and then abseil down a cliff on the other side; finally being rescued by a helicopter, although they arrive minutes too late to take part in the competition.

3. Somehow, all these strands are all resolved nicely: Mr Peterson calls a truce with the teacher from the posh school and they beat Mr Peterson's brother's entry in the competition although the posh school the prize; Mrs Peterson finds her husband and then gives birth (to twins) in a stable with the donkey in attendance; as a result of which Mr Peterson's dad is so proud that he reconciles with his son; Mr Peterson tells his twin brother that Mr Poppy has been more of a brother in the space of one day than his twin ever will be etc.

4. Plus there are loads of really funny lines. The best bit is actually when they are lost in the forest and Mr Peterson snaps out of it and starts shouting at Mr Poppy that he is an complete maniac who is endangering the lives of all the children they are schlepping around, and that they are in breach of just about very school rule that exists. He is being deadly serious, it is not actually funny at all. Mr Poppy then gets a mobile phone out of his impossibly deep rucksack and Mr Peterson screams at him "You've got a bloody 'phone! Why didn't you tell me you had a bloody 'phone?" (or words to that effect).

Ten out of ten out of ten. Bonus points for the deliberately awful Xmas songs performed in the competition and the cynical collusion between a corrupt judge and Mr Peterson's twin brother, "It's got to have a little boy with glasses singing a solo about how lonely he is, that's what the public wants."
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And lo, duly enthused, we went to see Nativity 3. There are plenty of funny lines in the first half, but the entire plot is totally implausible crap and contrived plot devices (the new teacher loses his memory, yawn) and the second half is absolutely awful, making no sense whatsoever and being interrupted with an entirely unrehearsed yet polished song-and-dance routine every five minutes. When the new teacher finally reconciles with his fiancée and they get married, you really don't give a shit either way.

Just saying'.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The spirit of the Metropolitan Railway lives on, or does it?

This looks like an example of a railway company trying to capture the uplift in capital values caused by the building (or in this case a reopening) of a railway line. But is it? The promise of a station at Leekbrook and a rail service into Stoke will certainly raise the value of the houses to be built at Leekbrook, but what is to prevent Moorland and City Railway from pocketing that extra cash and not rebuilding the line? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that "enabling development" went ahead without there subsequently being any "enabling" at all.

For the usual NIMBY fun, check out here.

Revealed: Hotels People Want to Stay In Charge More

From the Guardian

More than half the luxury hotels in the Caribbean have been accused of “excluding families from poorer backgrounds” after a Guardian study found that a few of them are charging as much as £4000 for a week, with Mustique's most expensive package coming in at £8000.

With the average price of a flight for a child at peak time costing £300, according to the study, parents faced with forking out for holidays over the summer period are having to count the increasing cost of going to the Caribbean.

Eleven hotels, most of whom have been highly rated by Johansens in the past 10 years, charged a premium at peak times. Turks and Caicos and Anguilla both charge £3000 plus VAT for their packages while St John’s prices range from £6000-8000 depending on the season.

The Interview

From the BBC

President Barack Obama has vowed a US response after North Korea's alleged cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

The US leader also said the studio "made a mistake" in cancelling the Christmas release of The Interview, a satire depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

...

Earlier on Friday, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation officially tied North Korea to the cyber-attack, linking the country to malware used in the incident.

Hackers had earlier issued a warning referring to the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, saying "the world will be full of fear" if the film was screened.

THIS WILL BE A LONG POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Timeline
Let's try and get this story straight, going right back to the beginning. In fact, just before the beginning on 21st November, when an email was sent to various Sony executives demanding money. Nothing about North Korea, nothing about The Interview. Just money.

3 days later on the 24th November, across Sony screens, a message appears telling whoever is reading that "We've already warned you". Along with this, a number of files were released around the internet, mostly via bittorrent containing movies.

By the 28th, a new theory had arisen with "unknown sources" that this was the work of North Korea as one of the movies involved was The Interview, a comedy about two celebrity reporters who get an interview with Kim Jong-Un, but before they do, the CIA tries to rope them in for an assassination.

Various shocking revelations were leaked - film stars have egos, black actors bring in smaller audiences than white ones, actresses earn less than actors.

On the 16th December, a hacker group then release more files from Sony's servers, along with a threat regarding The Interview suggesting 9/11 level violence near cinemas showing it.

On 17th December, the majority of cinema chains pulled the film. At this point, Sony figured it was best to cancel the premiere and withdraw the film.

On the 19th December, the FBI announce that North Korea is responsible for the actions.

Analysing Motives
It may be that this is an attack by North Korea on Sony. But if it is, why did they start off talking about money? Yes, North Korea went to the UN to complain about The Interview back in May, but North Korea always go to the UN to complain about this sort of thing. They got pissed off about Team America: World Police, but did nothing about it.

There are various links being made in various places, such as the FBI referring to tools used in an attack on South Korean banks, which they declare as being caused by the North Koreans, despite that only being a suspicion because it was routed via Chinese IP addresses. The problem with things like routing is that if you can create an infected machine in China, the attack could have come from almost anywhere.

The focus on North Korea began after the media made it so. It's a better story to be talking about international cyber terrorism than to be talking about cyber blackmail. The media started the stoking, the hacker group then delivered on the threat.

The story was then that the theaters dropped the film. There was some puzzlement by authorities such as the Department of Homeland Security because there was "no credible threat". So, why did cinema chains cancel the film? Well, some people are going to get nervous anyway. And in a multiplex, they won't just get nervous if they're going to see The Interview, but also if they're going to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the Interview is playing at the same multiplex. Bear in mind, this is not expected to be a huge film, and has some pretty lousy reviews. Are those multiplex companies going to risk losing Hunger Games and Hobbit money for the sake of a low income film.

Sony then cancelled the film. You don't want to run a huge marketing campaign for a few small theaters. They might even be thinking that they could release it another time, so let it all blow over.

The FBI then wanted in on it, writing an email about how they were certain it was North Korea, even though their links are very tenuous, and using that email to promote how they could help businesses, like an advertorial for their services.

Finally, Obama did his "standing up for rights" speech, blaming Sony for being chickens, promising to take action, but being completely non-specific about what he would do.

The whole thing is lies built on lies. In my opinion, it's a simple blackmail and shakedown job.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Life copies satire

From The Onion, October 1998:

Morbidly obese man enjoys disabled privileges with motorized cart

Sixteen years later, from The Daily Mail, December 2014:

Obesity IS a disability, rules highest EU court after 25st Danish childminder was 'sacked for being too fat to perform his job properly'

Fun Online Polls: Oil price and Xmas quiz

The responses to last fortnight's Fun Online Poll were as follows:

How low will the price of a barrel of oil fall over the next year?

$70 - 16%
$60 - 31%
$50 - 23%
$40 - 22%
$30 - 4%
$20 - 4%


To put it in context, the oil price was just oner $70 when I started the poll on 1 December and as of now is just under $60. Early voters probably guessed higher prices than later voters, but I didn't track it.

We'll see.
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I have watched a few formulaic Xmas-themed films on the telly over the past few weeks, and there appears to be no agreement on where Santa Claus lives.

Some films say he lives at the North Pole and others that he lives in Lapland. One film even said he'd retired to Florida.

I don't think it's the North Pole because they'd have spotted his workshop with satellites long before now, and he certainly can't hide anything underground. Lapland seems much more practical to me as a hiding place and reindeer are two a penny up there.

So that's this week's Fun Online Poll.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Forget Cuba, it flushed itself down the toilet three years ago.

Further to Stigler's post of earlier, from The Daily Mail, March 2012:

The purchasing and selling of private property was legalised by President Raul Castro in Cuba last November in a bid to keep the struggling Communist state afloat.

Only citizens and permanent residents are allowed to buy properties in the Communist country but many Cuban exiles in America are entering the property markets through friends and family on the island - bumping up property prices.

Now many homes in Havana are being sold at $250 per square metre - 12 times the average monthly wage of $20...

The new property market will drastically alter everyday life on the island for its residents - with many being able to choose for the first time where they want to live.


Great, you can choose where you live, but will spend all your income forever paying for it.

And there's the usual fig leaf..

But the government has insisted no individuals will be able to accumulate great wealth through the law change as sales will be subject to taxes.

"Sales" will be subject to taxes, but not "ownership". As a result, land ownership will quickly become concentrated in relatively few hands (probably former senior government people) and without those taxes on land values, they'll raise taxes from wealth creation instead, rinse and repeat.

Fair play to Raul C for trying to liberalise the economy a bit; but the correct procedure would have been to do this (except about five times as fast, but not so fast as that US corporates pile in and take everything over), make private earnings tax free and to increase ground rents, which can go into the pot for paying for education and healthcare and stuff.

And if any emigres want "their" land back, they'd be welcome to it, provided they pay the land tax.

Cuba - some thoughts

just thinking aloud, not sure what of this makes sense...

  1. It seems for a while that Fidel's brother, Raul, is a lot less wedded to the idea of Communism, doesn't have the flag-burning attitude of his idiot brother, has perhaps realised the revolution was a disaster. There's been a lot of market reforms since he took over.
  2. They've relied on other countries for 50 years for support. First USSR, then Venezuela. Venezuela's going down the tube, so they're now considering other options.
  3. The people who came over from Cuba in the early 60s who hate the Castros are dying out and declining as a percentage of the Florida population. This means it's less likely to swing the state one way or another.
  4. The republicans will cry about not lifting the embargo. Give it a few years, they'll tone that down. There's an issue about land taken by Cuba from American companies. Estimated value today about £7bn. Chicken feed to sort out diplomatic relations and get trade going again. The US government could have a ceremony where the Cuban government hands over a cheque that goes to those people, and the US pays it back.
  5. Assuming diplomatic/commercial relations come back, the economy will be tourism, nickel mining, cigar production, agriculture. Islands don't suit heavy industry.
  6. Cuba has lots of coast. Big long island. Let the Americans build hotels on beaches and collect a load of LVT for the locals. Not sure how much beach there is, but even on unattractive bits of coast, people pay a premium for housing.

Boris, you spendthrift twat, here's how it should be done.

From snipelondon/scoop:

Just four regular commuters are now using the Emirates Air Line cable car between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, down from 16 last autumn, new figures released to The Scoop reveal.

Only four Oyster card holders used mayor Boris Johnson’s £60m link more than five times in the week ending 19 October, triggering a regular users’ discount.


Now, what was Boris thinking when he commissioned this?

I can only assume he was thinking of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, one of the greatest forms of public transport ever.

They wanted to link up a few towns in a steep-sided river valley, but by the turn of the 20th century, the only practical solution was to build a monorail directly over and along the river itself. Just for extra kicks, the carriages hang underneath the rail, not above it.

I've been on that, it is awesome, but of course, most people using it are normal commuters*, so for them it's no more exciting that taking an underground train is for people who take the underground every day. So you have to play it cool rather than jumping about excitedly and saying "OMG! We are in a train several yards above a river!"

* The added joy of this is that the Schwebebahn is known locally/colloquially as the "Pendelbahn". The German word "pendel" can mean two quite different things. I didn't dare ask whether "pendel" refers to the side-to-side rocking motion (like a pendumulm) or the fact that people use it for commuting i.e. going back and forth.