Billboards, Hours, and the Post

Three micro reviews of movies recently watched.

Warning: plot spoilers!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Great acting by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. Woody Harrelson plays Woody Harrelson. The film is, on the whole, enthralling and tense right up until the time Harrelson’s character dies. After that, the pace was too uneven, and the atmosphere was somewhat limp. I cannot make my mind up if Peter Dinklage is there as a court jester or a serious character. He plays it straight, but the script veers too close to exploitation comedy for my tastes. Glad I saw it, but – unsurprisingly – not the brilliant film the critics seem to think.


Darkest Hour

The story is known, and it is not an action packed encounter. Lord Halifax’s cowardly streak has been fashioned out of thin air, and stretched beyond breaking point to create dramatic tension and a counterpoint to solid Winston. Oldman’s acting is just as over the top as the real Winston was, so that’s on target. The scene in the underground is daft, though it does mean I got my name on the screen for the first time in cinema history. See if you can work out how that happened. Better overall than ‘Three Billboards’ in my opinion.

The Post

S. L. O. W. Similar to Darkest Hour in that the story is known and lacks punch. Sure, people were risking their liberty, but a movie has to do a lot more than this one does to make the threat feel real. I thought Meryl Streep was on autopilot some of the time, and the script gave her little to work with. Similarly, Hanks was left high and dry by the ineffectual narrative he is asked to portray. The film looks good in all the right places, but has no punch, no bite, and little that endured in my memory. Blah.

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The Politicization of Science

The New Scientist (20 January 2018 issue) has an editorial on the cover story: the “worrying signs that civilisation has started to collapse.” The editorial includes the following:

THE idea that we are living in a historic, even apocalyptic, age exerts a powerful pull on the human mind. Eschatology – the theology of end times – is a religious concept, but crops up in many other systems of thought. Marxism and neo-liberalism were both driven by an “end-of-history” narrative. Scientific thinking isn’t immune either: the technological singularity has been called eschatology for geeks, and the study of existential risk even has its own centre at the University of Cambridge. You don’t have to believe in the four horsemen to see the apocalypse coming.

After noting that the end may not be so imminent after all, the editorial points out that a real threat to our world – climate change – has been badly handled. Why? The threat was politicized: used as a stick by political faction alpha to beat political faction beta about the head, and of course the other way round.

The point is not that the activists’ answers are wrong. Business as usual is a sure way to climate catastrophe. It is that they prematurely politicised the science and hence provoked pushback from people on the other side of the fence.

Evidence for an impending civilisational collapse is much weaker, but is already being politicised in a similar way. The causes being offered are familiar bugbears of the left: inequality, population growth and resource depletion. The proposed answers are equally predictable and contentious.

That’s the backdrop.

The main article on the topic includes this:

“The idea that Western power and influence is in gradual decline, perhaps as a prelude to a precipitous fall, has been around for a while. But it has gained a new urgency with recent political events, not least the election of US president Donald Trump. For some, his turning away from international commitments is part of fulfilling his promise to “make America great again” by concentrating on its own interests. For others, it’s a dangerous move that threatens to undermine the whole world order. Meanwhile, over in the old world, Europe is mired in its own problems.”

So the editorial cautions against politicization of the issue, and the main article politicizes the issue!

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is not the best man to be president of the USA. Will he be the worst? It depends on what media you base your judgement. But the suggestion that it is tenable to hold the end of the world is nearer because of Trump’s election is scaremongering in the extreme. It’s reckless, and panders to the same narrow focus of thought that says only socialism has the answer.

In short, the New Scientist‘s contribution to the discussion is tainted by politicization.

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Let’s Be Careful Out There

I ended my my blog post Secure? You better believe it about the discovery of microprocessor security vulnerabilities with this:

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

The question has been answered. Here are some notable points:

“Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years.

In short, we are all stuck in a hole not of our making.

Later on, there is some practical advice about what you should do:

This isn’t to say you should immediately turn your computers and phones off and not use them for a few years. For the average user, this is just another attack method amongst many. All the major vendors are working on patches and workarounds for the attacks they can mitigate. All the normal security advice still applies: watch for phishing attacks, don’t click on strange e-mail attachments, don’t visit sketchy websites that might run malware on your browser, patch your systems regularly, and generally be careful on the Internet.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, let’s be careful out there.

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Secure? You better believe it

Earlier this week, the Register reported the bombshell news that Intel chips have a major security flaw.

Since Intel chips are the most widely used, and dominate the PC, Apple, and big server market, and fixes seem likely to impact performance, to say that this was a shocker is something of an understatement.

Intel leapt into defense mode and issued a statement about how it’s no big deal, it’s going to be fixed, and we are not the only ones with a problem. I thoroughly recommend you read the Register‘s takedown of that statement here.

It’s from that analysis, I offer the following snippet as something to muse over:

“One step below security by obscurity, there’s security by belief. Demand more.”

Secure? You better believe it!

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

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Lightning Strike

According to this article in Globes:

“The Ministry of Justice has begun investigating law and accounting firms suspected of non-compliance with ‘know your client’ anti-money laundering rules.”

By way of background, these regulations put obligations on lawyers, accountants, and banks to make sure their client is who he says he is.

In some quarters these regulations have the nickname “Business Prevention Rules” because asking people for copy passports, utility bills, certificates of corporate status and so on, are seen as a barrier to doing business. In practice, 100% of the honest population are mildly inconvenienced so as to try and restrict the unlawful activities of the dishonest minority.

That background explains why sometimes professionals do not properly enforce the regulations. And from time to time, whether in Israel, the UK, or Europe, the authorities clamp down and maybe prosecute a few bad apples as an example pour encourager les autres.

The Globes article is worth looking at only because of this gem of a typo:

“Sources inform “Globes” that Adv. Adi Comeriner Peled, the supervisor in the Ministry of Justice for non-financial businesses and professionals, has begun conducting lightening visits to law and accounting firms suspected of violating provisions of the law concerning documentation of deals and services provided to clients.”

I can just hear the conversation now:

“I’ve come on a lightening visit.”

“Great. Which burden are you going to lighten?”

English in Israel is often an adventure into the absurd.

[I see that some other diligent reader spotted the typo. Maybe they will fix the article. Too bad.]

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200 Years of Misery?

Naftali Bennett (Source: Wikimedia)

If there’s one Israeli who comes close to being ritually demonized as often and as automatically as Bibi Netanyahu, it’s probably Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party and Minister of Education. One reason: the two state solution. While Bibi is superficially at least in favor, Naftali Bennett is opposed. That makes him close to public enemy number one. (Or, more accurately, salon anti-Zionists’ enemy number one of a million.) He doesn’t get a fair reflection of his views in the western media, and certainly precious little opportunity to be debated on the details of his proposals. So, I was pleased to see a decent interview of Mr B by Calev Ben-Dor on the Fathom site, which you can read here.

Here’s a summary of his overview:

“Essentially forming a Palestinian state along the lines that many of the readership of Fathom believe is the way forward would guarantee 200 years of misery for the two peoples.”

To be clear, I do not agree with Naftali Bennett’s proposals, though I do sympathize with some of his assessments. For example, as matters stand, were a two state solution implemented tomorrow, 200 years of misery might be an understatement! However, for me it is important to shed light on the topic and discuss the issues, regardless of my personal differences of opinion with him. For sure, his heart is in the right place, but that may not be enough.

My suggestion: read and decide for yourself. Use your powers of critical thinking and your intellectual muscle. Enjoy the exercise. Maybe you will see things from a new perspective. Maybe you will think he’s right…

If you are too lazy to read the interview, maybe this closing snippet will entice you:

“I am very optimistic. When you look at the world through Oslo and cocktail parties the world looks dire. But I spend a lot of time on ground, my family lives here and I see the quality of life for Israeli Arabs when I visit their schools, and for Palestinians, and the actual picture is a very good picture. It could be much better if we focus on making lives better from the bottom-up.”

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