Tuesday, 27 March 2012

How beastly the socialist is

How beastly the socialist is
especially the female of gender--

Pretty, exceedingly pretty--
shall I make you a present of her?

Isn’t she gorgeous? Isn’t she fit? Isn’t she a fine piece?
Doesn’t she look the fresh clean councillor, outside at play?
Isn’t she Bevan’s own? Tramping her thirty tweets a day
after outrage, or a little strike action?
Wouldn’t you like to be like that, all class, and quite the thing
in comment on Margaret Thatcher?

How beastly the socialist is
especially the female agenda--

Petty, exceedingly petty--
shall I make you a present of her?
It’s another ‘socialist says something mean’ story - would all Conservative whiners please leave the room. You’re surprised? Are you really surprised? You’ve not heard what they said - what they still say - about their last successful leader, the one who won three in a row, the “war criminal” Tony Blair? With apologies to D. H. Lawrence and a nod to stones and glass houses, grow up, the lot of you.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The poor should pay

Another budget and if you believe the calculator on the BBC website (what kind of simpletons use such things?) I’ll be £100/year better off. Usual lefty rubbish regarding the 50p rate being lowered, never mind whether it’s effective they’re predictably displaying their ‘tax as a punishment’ credentials. Who’d have thought tax should be about raising revenue with the lowest impact; certainly not the Labour party. Of most interest is this theme, for which we can thank the Liberal party, of excusing the lower paid from paying anything; I read one who fancifully described it as an obscenity that those on minimum wage should pay any tax, and it’s not limited to those on the left, Conservatives seem bound to hold the same view; I don’t.

For all the good intentions, such beliefs marginalise those they’re meant to help, entrench a ‘them and us’; those who contribute and those who don’t. This isn’t about worth, it’s about upkeep; I don’t know many - aside a few libertarian wingnuts - who believe society (however we define it) has no cost and are thus unwilling to pay. If we believe we should be in this together (putting aside the issue of whether we are) then we should share the responsibility in addition to the benefit. Though for the lower paid this may be token, or cancelled for administrative - not social - reasons, the principle should remain; everyone has a stake.

Friday, 16 March 2012


So much misinformation, so let’s look at just one piece of nonsense; the hysteria raised at the news NHS hospitals will be allowed to generate up to 49% of their income from private patients. This has been presented as anything from “handing over 49% of the NHS to the private sector” to the only slightly less-nonsensical “49% of NHS resources being used for the private sector”. Such statements fail to note the private sector will have to pay. Also we can be confident in the assertion (since otherwise there would be nothing in it for the hospital) that any provision of services to the private sector would be at a charge greater than their cost - in other words, a profit - an important detail given that simple logic shows this will enable the treatment of more (not less) NHS patients.

In this illustration, whilst accepting that not all operations cost the same and therefore some beds cost more than others, we will for the sake of simplicity use a hospital bed as the financial unit of measurement. And since we accept there must be profit, in this example we will say it is in the order of “1 bed” profit for every “100 beds” of service to the private sector. This allows us to make the following three statements:
  1. An NHS hospital funded by the tax-payer to the equivalent of “510 beds”, and with no income from private patients, has a capacity of 510 beds for use by NHS patients.
  2. An NHS hospital providing “486 beds” to the private sector will make (rounding down) “4 beds” profit for NHS patients.
  3. An NHS hospital funded by the tax-payer to the equivalent of “510 beds”, and with a private income of “490 beds” of which “4 beds” is profit, has a capacity of 514 beds for use by NHS patients.
Of course the service provided by a hospital is more than the number of beds, and in the example above we arbitrarily choose the level of profit, but what we can also see is that the 49% limit is entirely artificial and no doubt politically motivated. The fact remains that an NHS hospital having any level of profit generating private income will, for the same level of tax-payer funding as a hospital funded by the tax-payer alone, be able to provide more services to NHS patients. Indeed this statement is so patently obvious, I wonder at all the fuss.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

God distracts the faithful

Whilst God distracts the faithful I see eleven films over four days, only two of which are new. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Garden of The Finzi-Continis; the latter had been sitting on my shelf since just before Christmas and as I’d seen The Conformist on Netflix only a few weeks ago, it would complete a Dominique Sanda double-bill. The Conformist is visually striking but in that category of ‘appreciate’ as opposed to ‘love’, whereas Finzi-Continis, having a gorgeous colour palette, is not only beautiful to look at but a film I’ll watch again; this despite a soundtrack that on occasion appears off, apparently the result of being post-synchronised rather than recorded live. Something I couldn’t help noticing with both Italian films is that voyeuristic regard to female nudity you find in late 60’s and early ‘70s European cinema. There are some who will call this a brave (for the time) expression of female sexuality; you believe that if you want, it looks like a wet t-shirt to me.

Giorgio Bassani's story is of a wealthy Jewish family separated from the rise of Italian fascism by the walls of their estate; odd that I too came to believe the high-walled garden would shield them from the world outside. There were many festival highlights, but the other that springs to mind is an old favourite, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. My reaction each time is the same. It starts quirky, turns rather clever and - just at the moment you feel a danger of it disappearing up its own fundament - becomes something quite wonderful. Joel shows Clementine an embarrassing moment of his past, to which the younger Clementine leads the younger Joel away through a gap in the fence. “I’m so ashamed” he says. “It’s OK”, she replies “you were a little kid.”

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Phil's four-day film festival

Something WildThe Garden of The Finzi-ContinisWonderland
Revolutionary RoadCity of GodThe Machinist
The Dark KnightMoonTinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The FountainEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Something Wild; Jonathan Demme (director), Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, Ray Liotta.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis; Vittorio De Sica (director), Dominique Sanda.
Wonderland; Michael Winterbottom (director), Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson, Molly Parker.
Revolutionary Road; Sam Mendes (director), Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet.
City of God; Fernando Meirelles (director), Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino.
The Machinist; Brad Anderson (director), Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The Dark Knight; Christopher Nolan (director), Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart.
Moon; Duncan Jones (director), Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Tomas Alfredson (director), Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt.
The Fountain; Darren Aronofsky (director), Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Michel Gondry (director), Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Not quite there

Another Netflix movie, several episodes of The Office, and I’m of an early opinion they’re not quite there when it comes to on-demand. On Saturday I watched a two-hour film, Departures, and was interrupted three times; it wasn’t enough to ruin the film but it could have been. On Sunday morning; three episodes of The Office without interruption, yet in the evening it took multiple attempts to watch one more. Of the two other films, In the Mood for Love was poor quality but played right through and The Conformist suffered several glitches. This is nowhere near the service I get from BT Vision where, for example, I played all five seasons of The Wire with a consistently better picture quality and experienced minor problems on only one episode; that’s over 60 hours of nearly uninterrupted playback. So besides acknowledging I need to get a life, what else does this tell me? There are a number of possible factors skewing my experience.
  • BT Vision is wired into the router, everything else is wireless.
  • To play content on the television I use my daughter’s Nintendo console, giving me scope to wonder on the reliability of both software and hardware. How good are the software updates? How good is the wireless on a Wii? When it does lag, which is to blame?
  • The only fair comparison I can make is to remove hardware from the equation, and compare Netflix, Lovefilm and iPlayer from my wireless PC.
I suspect however that BT’s impressive performance is mainly due to a looser interpretation of network neutrality - where some content is more equal than others; given the aggressive pricing of Netflix and Lovefilm I’d be surprised if they’d paid for QoS.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The hills are alive with the sound of pretentiousness

Departures (film)
It's the Japanese film that won the Oscar for best foreign language film of 2008. It shouldn’t have. Departures is a good film, I liked it, but I find it difficult to believe it best. I should watch The Baader Meinhof Complex whilst it’s still on iPlayer so I can rate one of the competition. Daigo Kobayashi is a cello player who through circumstance becomes a mortician. In a country where death is the subject of much ceremony - yet is also taboo - Departures offers another view on a culture so different to our own. I’m all for difference, and on those universal themes of sorrow and loss it was very moving, in places, but I have some reservations.

To start, it’s a film with two endings; there’s a really good end to this film - about 20 minutes before the actual end to this film. There’s the lovely conclusion (that should have been) when the cute wife, who to that point hasn’t been too supportive of his new career, looks lovingly at her husband whilst he handles another customer. And then, unfortunately, there’s the mistaken need to tidy up any loose ends - the whole back story of his father. And then there’s the cello, oh God...

Daigo is a cello player, and in common with other cello players he likes to drive into the middle of nowhere and position himself on a small grassy ridge with snow-covered mountains in the background. If you’ve seen the poster and want to know what it has to do with the film, let me answer that one for you - absolutely nothing. This isn’t a film about a cello player - that’s the ‘cultured man in culture clash’ device - it’s a film about a man who handles dead bodies; though to be fair, showing a dead body in front of a mountain backdrop might have been more difficult to sell. There’s a few of these cello-playing intervals too; some featuring the player himself, some with swans or other wildlife. Oh and while I think about it, there’s a bit about some fish who “swim upstream only to die”. As luck would have it there happens to be an old man on hand to utter some wise words underscoring the message of the film, though I’m damned if I can remember what they were.