Saturday, 20 December 2014

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.


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.
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.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

More Mansion Tax Double Think

As reported in The Times this week by economics and property correspondent Kathryn Hopkins,

"Young professionals in London could experience large rises in their rent if a mansion tax is introduced next year, an estate agent has warned.

Knight Frank said that if landlords had to pay Labour’s proposed tax on properties worth more than £2 million, they would be highly likely to pass the extra cost on to tenants.

Any additional costs would make landlords’ investments less viable, Knight Frank said. The impact would be particularly marked when landlords were paying a mortgage on the property.

“There has not been any clarification as to whether the proposed mansion tax would be the responsibility of the landlord or the tenant, but our assumption is that it will be the landlord,” Tim Hyatt, from Knight Frank, said.

Hopkins faithfully regurgitated the above. But in the very next paragraph...

Meanwhile, Hamptons International has said that George Osborne’s changes to the stamp duty system will boost prices and transactions in the first half of next year in all but the most expensive areas of England and Wales.

Its analysis of home sales this year suggests that 72 per cent of buyers would have been better off under the new regime, it would have made no difference to 27 per cent and only 2 per cent would have been worse off.

The typical gain is equivalent to 1 per cent of the purchase price."

So, increases in property taxes (Mansion Tax) raise prices (rents)... but decreases in property taxes(SDLT) also raise prices (capitalised rent/selling prices).

Granted, economics isn't Kathryn's main subject, but surely she should at least try to highlight this obvious contradiction.

Rents are set at the upper limit of affordability (inelastic supply) not cash costs. Landlords are not a charity, they are already charging the highest amount their tenants can afford. The incidence of taxation on immovable property always therefore falls on the landowner.

So, it doesn't matter who is legally liable to pay property taxes. The landlord or tenant, the buyer or seller. The effect is always the same: the tax reduces the landowner's rental income or selling price. Her analysis of the effect of SDLT changes on selling prices is correct; the assumptions about the Mansion tax are 100% incorrect.

The most interesting bit in Russell Brand's TV programme about drugs.

In case you missed it, see reasonably fair write up in The Telegraph.

The revealing bit was when RB was in a cafe interviewing two women who were full-on Category B drug users i.e. whose lives had been ruined by drugs and/or whose lives were ruined so they turned to drugs. Chicken and egg.

The first merrily admitted to still regularly using drugs, despite having been in prison and put on some mandatory, then RB chatted to the other one.

You could see the first one in the background of the shot, smoking a cigarette... outside the cafe.

There's this weird thing with smokers, me included, we are so terribly law-abiding and subservient when it comes to the smoking ban. For example, cheerfully admitting, on public TV that you take drugs, despite being known to The Authorities, but popping outside when you want a fag.

Movie Violence

From The Telegraph

Children’s films are rife with murder and mayhem and can contain more violence than gory gangster shoot-em-ups like Pulp Fiction, researchers have found.

Although cartoons like Finding Nemo, Bambi or Frozen may seem like gentle tales where good triumphs over evil and adversity is overcome, they are, in fact, riddled with death and destruction and can leave youngsters traumatised.

I obviously missed the unedited versions where Nemo shoots a shark for saying "what" one more time, where Bambi's mother accidentally snorts heroin and has to be resuscitated by having an injection of adreneline and where Olaf in Frozen gets gang raped by a couple of rednecks before Sven appears wielding a Samurai sword and stabbing them before promising to call a couple of homeboys with blowtorches and pliers to "get medieval on yo ass"?.

FFS, the Grimms' Fairy Tales are early 19th century and include all sorts of violence - witches trying to eat children, witches getting killed etc. The original stories are more violent than Disney versions, and kids didn't end up traumatised by them.