Finished the latest Dresden Files urban fantasy novel Cold Days. The last two books put Harry Dresden through some changes. This one is a bit more of a return to normal. As usual, it's fast-paced, action-and-wisecrack-packed, good fun. Also advances our knowledge of the wider universe of the series a bit.
Slight downside: some of the plot elements feel a bit over-familiar. Harry is now employed as the Winter Knight which endangers him with corruption in the form of impulses to anger. This is pretty similar to his situation with the Denarians. However it does seem that Jim Butcher is planning a proper ending to the series, so I'm pretty hopeful that it's not going to get too stale: his Codex Alera series had a good series finale too.
Overall, well up to the standards of the series, worth reading it you're following it.
What I'm Watching
Saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D at the cinema. Not bad, pretty much what I expected from the reviews. Nice to see Middle-Earth again. Reasonably faithful to the book in terms of events, but definitely feels padded out.
The action scenes feel a bit unmenacing, with hordes of orcs and goblins effortlessly dispatched and the main characters in no apparent danger. Some parts from the book, like the rock gians, look a bit silly on screen too.
Overall though, reasonably entertaining, but not brilliant.
Tech stuff. I didn't actually notice the high frame rate thing (it's shot at 48 frames per second, which some have complained about): maybe the digital projection I saw didn't do it. The 3D is OK without obvious layering, but not particularly creative, there's nothing like the wonderful zoo scene in "Life of Pi", or the blistering turns of "TT3D: Closer to the Edge".
Well, David Cameron has finally made his much vaunted speech on Europe, promising an in-out referendum in the next Parliament, after he's extracted unspecified concessions.
I think the EU one of those issues that is difficult to discuss because the debate is largely framed around firm beliefs that are not actually true. These include.
1. The general public are intensely hostile to Europe.
2. The unpopular European Court of Human Rights is an EU body.
3. The UK could be part of the European free trade zone without having to follow EU regulations.
4. The general public want a free trade zone instead of the EU.
t I would say that instead of these:
1. The general public are mildly hostile to Europe. Polling says it's unpopular, but it's also rated as a low importance issue. This even applies to UKIP voters who don't rate Europe as a very important issue compared to others. Recent polls show more in support of membership.
2. The ECHR is not an EU body. All they have in common is "Europe" in the name. The UK could leave the EU completely and still have to follow the hated "yuman rights" rulings. Or it could leave the ECHR and remain in the EU.
3. Free movement of people is one of the fundamental four freedoms which are the core rules of the single market, applying to Switzerland and the EEA nations too. Anyone with access to the single market has to follow the EU regulations. Bent cucumbers seems like a petty issue, but the EU cucumber growers aren't going to let crappy bent and blemished cucumbers to be sold as the same quality as their beautiful straight and clear ones.
4. Apart from human rights, the main things that the public dislike about Europe are EU immigrants competing for jobs, and the EU regulations. But even with a Swiss or EEA deal where we have access to the single market without being members, those issues would remain. The public don't want to replace the EU with a free trade zone: it's the free trade aspects of the EU that they don't like.
Now, if the UK were to leave the EU, it would have to decide on a fundamental question: whether to remain part of the European free trade zone or not.
To leave the free trade zone would be economically devastating. Much of UK trade is dependent on it. Perhaps some bilateral treaties could be created with other entities like NAFTA or ASEAN. But every British business which trades with the EU would be devastated for years, even if some could eventually build up new order books exporting to new nations instead. It's more expensive to ship stuff longer distances, it takes time to negotiate trade agreements, it takes time to work out how to enter a new market with different competitors, different buyer preferences, different sales tactics.
But to remain in the free trade zone would mean that the main issues the public dislikes would still be there. The EU would still issue regulations and we would have to comply: we would just lose our vote, veto and voice over them. (Actually, even if we joined NAFA we'd probably see equally hated issues over unlabelled GM corn and beef hormones etc: trade regulation issues aren't just for the EU). We'd still have Polish plumbers using the Free Movement principle to compete for jobs. We'd still have the ECHR issuing hated "Yuman Rights" decrees. If our deal is like Norway's, our EU budget contributions would remain high.
Now, in view of these things, I think it would be a mistake for the UK to leave the EU. To leave the free trade zone would be an economic catastrophe. To stay in the free trade zone doesn't fix the main things people complain about.
Regarding the referendum itself, I'm reasonably optimistic that there would not be a vote to exit. First, it depends on a Conservative majority at the next election which seems unlikely. Second, while there's a random element to any referendum, there's also a status-quo bias. Even a small amount of pro-EU fightback seems to have shifted the polls back.
However, even the small risk of an EU exit does create unhelpful uncertainty, which could discourage businesses from investing in the UK. It could also cause a waning of influence of the UK within the EU. Why do the UK any favours on regulations or votes, when the UK may not be able to return them if it exits, and will be focussed on extracting concessions.
Overall then, while it's not devastating to British interests, I think the Cameron referendum promise is another case of him choosing to sacrifice the interests of the UK, in order to help appease a group of Conservative party backbenchers with unrealistic ideas.
It's also particularly silly that for the second time, David Cameron will launch a referendum that he wants to fail in favour of the status quo. As an actually conservative Conservative Edmond Burke said: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." David Cameron's judgement is clearly that the UK should stay in the EU. If he was a brave leader, he would try to lead the nation according to that judgement. It seems ridiculous and a little cowardly to call a referendum to change to a course you judge is wrong, and just keep your fingers crossed that it won't pass.
Socioeconomics. A living wage, or a much higher minimum wage, is worth paying. What's actually going on in Iceland, via. IMF says UK should ease austerity. "Working families". Family Diversity in the Later Stone Age.
Politics. Tory rebels not just concerned about Europe. The Sun v. Gordon Brown. Cameron in Limbo-land, no Brexit. Careers advice reforms led todeterioration in standards. Support for Scottish independence falls. How pro-gun Americans twist Australian crime stats. US: The Loyal Opposition: Congratulations Mr. President on your second inaugural.
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