Thursday, 30 March 2017

Just Remind Me ...

Back in October, one of our anons asked how the EC had 'crossed the line'.  I am sure we all have our own answers to this, but at the end of my diatribe in response, I said:
final straw: (6) energy policy (my special subject) was the last bastion of national control. So in 2015 the EC invented the 'Energy Union' - a Common Energy Policy to mirror the CAP etc
Since then it's got worse.  The EC released its 'winter package' of energy market measures, including the introduction of Regional Operating Centres for governing electricity grids.
"Transmission system operators (TSO) would have to cooperate with neighbouring TSOs and the new Regional Operating Centre."
Cooperate?  A classic EUphemism for a classic EC acqui-grab - a power-play in every sense.  An ROC would cover more than one EU member, and would 'optimise' their electricity flows, haha - i.e. decide what they will be, overriding national control.   'Cooperation' will explicitly be mandatory.

I think we may guess in whose interest this will work out.  Exhibit A:  Germany, whose ridiculous 'energy policy' only works by variously dumping wind and solar electricity surpluses on their unsuspecting neighbours, and making good wind and solar deficiencies by importing large quantities over the heads of their neighbours.  The neighbours (esp. Poland and Czechia) needless to say, are heartily sick of this (even when being paid to take away the said surpluses) and have been talking about disconnecting from Germany.  How handy that a trans-national ROC will take charge.

Exhibit B:  France, which mostly wants to export its nuclear surpluses but, when this creaking atomic edifice lets them down (in hot weather, e.g., or when the regulator has made them shut down for tests) ...

Now I'm as much in favour of free trade as anyone you know, willing buyer / willing seller.  Surpluses & shortfalls are there to be traded out, it's what makes the world go round.  But not at the say-so of an unaccountable 'regional operating centre', thanks.

If this is what the 27 want - the interests of Germany and France dictating their futures - well good luck to 'em.  Missing us already?  I'll bet you are, Tusk.


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

"...Deep and Special Partnership..." - Open Thread

So - the Text is there for interpretation. What do we all think? 

I quite like the Grauniad's parsing of it, e.g.
"We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats … We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union."
Graun says this =

Though the language remains constructive, this is a much more controversial veiled threat. In eliding** Britain’s security responsibilities with its desire for economic gain so explicitly, May will be accused of holding a fearful continent to ransom: give us your markets, or we will leave you at the mercy of terrorists and Russians.
"Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats."
= I can help you deal with Donald Trump.
"Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war."
= … but you also need me to keep Vladimir Putin at bay.


** shame none of the highly educated liberals at the Graun knows what 'elide' means.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Geo-Engineering: the Cat Shortly Among the Pigeons

Here's an entertaining prospect.  Geo-engineering, a topic that surfaces from time to time - and unfailingly causes apoplexy - may be coming to a Trump administration near you.  So: soon it may be getting mainstream airtime.  Let the outrage commence!  And the sulphates, and the algae, the CO2 pumps, the cloud-seeding, marine-cloud brightening, solar sunshades etc etc. 

At the best of times, Greenies are prone to (a) crazy & illogical argumentation;  (b) hyperventilation & tears.  But in my experience geo-engineering seems to bring out the worst in them, they spontaneously detonate.  Advocates of this baleful practice are evidently several degrees worse than mere CAGW-deniers.

To the extent Greenies muster arguments at all on the subject, these fall into four categories (I confess I haven't yet trawled the latest CiF tsunami for any new ones):
  • political - it's all Jolly Undemocratic
  • unintended consequences - there will be Lots
  • continued hydrocarbon burning - under cover of the geo-programme
  • maintenance of the geo-programme - it can't be relied upon, and then what?
If reasoning had anything to do with it - and of course it doesn't - these arguments can be countered with ease, mostly one must stop laughing for just a minute and point out the exact same arguments apply equally to their own favoured "solutions".  Examples from the real world can be given aplenty.

The fourth 'argument' always amuses me.  Woe upon us, what would happen if we relied on (e.g.) pumping reflective particles into the sky to keep the world from warming up - And Then There Was A War?!   And no-one would be maintaining the particles!   

Well.  In a world where everyone also relies on, oh, what shall we mention?  - electricity grids / the internet / health services / clean water systems / complex food supply chains / telephone networks / satellite communications & GPS / credit cards - what's one new techno-dependency between friends?  A new one comes along every generation.  FFS.

Anyhow I am looking forward to the show.  Better they are wetting themselves over this than several other more proximate causes that might bring them out onto the streets.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Children Are Getting a Bit Shrill

I don't know if the remoaners feel that by screaming very loudly and going blue in the face, they will somehow stay Mrs May's hand on the fateful pen this week.  But they really are getting a bit shrill.
Like sheep, the British people, regardless of whether they support Brexit, are being herded off a cliff, duped and misled by the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory**
Michael Heseltine: Germany will 'win the peace' because of Brexit ... Tory peer says it is ‘quite unacceptable’ for Germany to be in dominant position in Europe, having lost second world war 
Nick Clegg told the crowd in Parliament Square that “sadness” about the outcome of last June’s referendum had given way to “a perpetual sense of anger about the choices that Theresa May and her government have taken since”
Ah well.  Perhaps after the letter is sent everything will subside a bit.  I am a great believer in the idea that when the chips are down the Grown-Ups just repair to the study to get on with things behind closed doors, the mewling children left kicking and blubbing in the rumpus-room. 

Much the most likely concrete near-term development is suggested in the report we heard earlier in the week, that several preliminary agreements have already been struck and will be announced fairly soon.  That bullshit from Juncker last summer about "no negotiations until Art 50 has been triggered" was a typical children's saying.  Try and stop them if you will: but diplomats, negotiators and grown-ups in general, always pick up the 'phone at a very early stage in any proceedings.  Like speaks unto like.  

And I feel there have been signs M. Barnier is a grown-up, too.


**UPDATE: someone else liked this Observer editorial for its batty qualities:
"This week’s leader column of that great old newspaper The Observer is quite simply one of the maddest things ever published in a serious newspaper"

Saturday, 25 March 2017

SS-GB: The occupation of the UK. Mainly by HBO.

Having last written about the difficulty of finding a shared entertainment experience, even about something such as Game of Thrones, the most watched TV show in the world, I want to look at something that maybe no one else saw. So this may be doomed from the outset.

BBC1 recently concluded its 5 part Sunday night drama SS-GB. Based on the superb book by Len Deighton. Its the tale of Britain losing the second world war after Dunkirk. The Nazis invasion of 1940 succeeds and they occupy most of the UK. 

The adapters for the BBC decided to use a very large chunk of the original dialogue. Good move. It has some superb lines. They stuck very closely to the original plot which revolves around a murder. The Atomic bomb and a plot to free the King from the huns and fly him to Canada.

The acting was good. The sexy scenes sexy enough. The violence gory enough. Len Deighton often wrote his books in the Shakespearean fashion of having the action of stage. So a good fit for a TV series. All in all, and bearing in mind this is one of my top ten desert island books being translated to TV, I thought it a decent 7/10 affair.

However, as someone who recently got Netflix and baby Sky {Now TV} something was quickly apparent. The BBC don't have the budget for big drama anymore. They have well and truly been eclipsed by the others. 

Bearing in mind this was a showpiece, it clearly suffered from cash limitations. See those props of anti-tank obstacles above? They were in almost every outside scene. Along with more substantial concrete blocks. Those 'Czech hedgehogs' were for stopping tanks from making a breakthrough and blocking streets. Despite being cheap to manufacture from any old metal, they weren't the just plopped around any old how. The picture above is of a POW camp. Why would that have anti-tank obstacles? Who has tanks in occupied Britain to threaten the Germans? But enough of the history nerd. The point is they kept appearing and I guess that was because that was what they had bought to look Nazified.

The interiors were great. Usual top notch BBC period. But almost every time someone looked out of a window, they would describe what they saw. There was no view for us. No money to film what was being seen. all the curtains were closed. Occupied Britain would have had a curfew.  But the blackout would have been over. Yet the streets were dark. Again, the limitations of budget requiring close in narrow focus shots. And the closed curtain interiors.

In one chilling scene in the book the SS arrest all the teachers and elder boys at a school. They are loaded into army trucks and driven away. This was in the TV show too. But only the inside scene where the SS officer orders their arrest for questioning. No exterior of old men, women and children being loaded up for God knows what fate. This wouldn't matter too much. If The Others weren't piling in with extravagance. result for SS commander Huth's centre of operations. result for house of cards inauguration

The Crown, top left, is THE most expensive TV show ever made. I've only seen one episode but it is classy. Just look at that scene. The whole show is like that. Underneath is game of Thrones. Just a still from nothing very much. Its not a CGI. Not a centerpiece battle episode. Its just some castle they film at with extras. But its still impressive.  It looks as it should. GOT costs around $10 million an episode for the last season. HBO's other big block buster, Westworld, had a similar budget.
Doctor Who, the flagship BBC drama, costs around $800,000 an episode.

Bottom right is the inauguration scene from House of cards. Maybe a fairer comparison as that is largely an internally shot political drama. This is not when Spacey becomes Prez. The other chump does. his inauguration is full on. Could be taken straight from the Trump one. 
And there is SS-GB. This IS the main scene. Highgate cemetery and USSR-Nazi friendship ceremony. 

Its not a bad scene at all. And there are many more people and soldiers and such in other shots. But this is fairly representative. The actor in the centre is the Gestapo chief of the UK. He has no aides. No guards. There is one sentry. A Nazi flag and that's it.
This is supposed to be the returning of Karl Marx to the Germans current allies, the USSR. Just imagine what a propaganda spectacle that would have been. From both regimes.
in the scene where Heinrich Himmler turns up, he's walking around in a warehouse. Then he leaves by car. 
Himmler wasn't Heydrich. He traveled in his own train. With a Presidential convoy amount of SS trucks and cars following him around wherever he went.

Viewers complained about the sound. The mumbling. The Eastenders style of breathy, menacing acting. 'Leaf it art!" 
 I just thought it lacked the budget to make it convincing in the way the BBC's competitors now routinely do. One scene where  the main cop needs a film secretly developed is handled entirely through dialogue and requires a second scene to explain itself. Better to have had him visit the developer's studio. It would have been obvious what he was doing then. But ... Budget ?

The skill of Downton Abbey was, regardless whether it actually was or not, it looked exactly as authentic as you imagined the period would look. 
As did Boardwalk Empire. And the Rome series. And the Tudors. 

Wolf Hall,  the 2015 great BBC hope looked really good. It had a strong cast and loads of actors and used plenty of the UK's numerous Tudor buildings to good effect. A huge critical success. Not so much an audience one as it slumped in the ratings pretty quickly. It was dark to the point of blackness when shot in candle light. And as mumbly as ever.  It can't just look good. It has to be good too. 
Can't help thinking the Beeb are using these 'authentic issues', candle lit rooms and sleepy voices, not actor projection oratory, to try and disguise a lack of money. Realism over Hollywood excess.

So, how can the BBC compete with the big budget, big ratings shows from other broadcasters? Should it even bother? Should it just buy them in? The BBC aired the Tudors which was a Canadian venture. It didn't commission it. Call the Midwife is a hit for the BBC and its global sales. Should it stick to that sort of easy period drama? The guts of it coming from the period charm mix with social realism 
{I had to pinch that from the Guardian. I've never seen it!}

Personally I thought SS-GB a perfect fit for the BBc's budget limitations. 

Its set in the UK. It requires period British actors. It's WW2, which is relatively easy to do. It doesn't need much CGI. There aren't many really expensive scenes to make. The rivalry between SS, SD, Gestapo and Army of occupation is great for intrigue. The Americans have a main role. Perfect for selling the show overseas and attracting US money. And its a police, crime, spy, love story. Ticks so many boxes for Sunday TV.

But I feel it needed quite a bit more cash and a bit more thought into making London look like we imagine occupied London would look would have made it great.
Instead of just good enough.