Tag Archives: James Cameron

Removing the floor

OK, I have made predictions in the past and most were close to spot on, some were just a little off, yet I had not ever for the life of me gotten it wrong by half a billion before. In ‘First the Soft‘ at (https://lawlordtobe.com/2019/04/27/first-the-soft/), I made the prediction: “we now see that Avengers: Endgame is heading towards a 700 million opening weekend (globally) is no stretch, it would make it the largest opening weekend in history“. Some claimed I was being too optimistic, perhaps I was at that a little; I now see from several sources that the estimate was off by a lot. The sources mostly re-quote Variety and when we realise that the reality of “According to Variety, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ pulled in $350 million in the US and an incredible $1.2 billion worldwide in its first weekend. This smashes the ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ take by over $500 million“, we can agree that my thoughts on it being the best Marvel movie ever is not even close to the mark. The movie is now listed on 18th position of the best money making movies ever on a global scale, from naught to 18 in one weekend. This now implies that the movie could shoot to 3rd position in a week, optionally replacing Titanic in 2nd place, it is a record that James Cameron held for 21 years, and he also held the number one spot for 10 years which is now in equal danger of getting surpassed by Avengers: Endgame soon thereafter. I believe that will happen, yet the speed at which this could be happening at has never been seen before.

This news is actually more important than you might think. You see Hollywood is nothing if not revenue driven, so there is every chance that my beloved comic books form the 70’s and 80’s will find themselves to the big screen or some Netflix streaming channel. This is both awesome and optionally sad. When the money makers see the amount of money Marvel just grossed, it will make them step into the fairway and claim their own billions. The sad part is that there is every chance that people will concentrate on their dollar shaped pupils and forget that Avengers: Endgame is the result of 11 years and 22 movies, so whatever they do they need to be careful not to squander the option they would acquire.

One of the front runners in this would be the work of Don Lawrence. He became famous with the works of the Trigan Empire as well as Storm. The Trigan Empire has everything to become stellar, it is placed in what would be a ‘Nova Roma’ A roman empire but in the 21st century, so we get decadence, martial impact (for references see the Spartacus series), direct encounters (read: sex, combat and confrontational resolutions) as well as other elements making it highly desirable to the watchful eyes of millions. Getting it right would be an essential part in all this. Remember, that I Claudius failed in the first attempt until it was done right in the 70’s.

In second place there is the Spanish artist Segrelles who gave us ‘El Mercenario‘, a little more fantasy, but most pleasing to the eye in more than one way. It is utterly lacking realism (the dragons are a dead giveaway) but the stories have been intriguing since the beginning and the art has a certain flair that does go with the need for excellent story telling.

I am not giving you a top three. There are so many considerations. There is the Flash Gordon from the 70’s, there is Diabolik, although in this case it seems that Murdoch’s European pay-tv operation are already on that case, so I reckon that if they make that one dark enough, they might have an instant hit. This all has one additional benefit for me, there is every chance that someone will consider reprinting the comics by Angela and Luciana Giussani, a win-win for all. I believe that technology was the greatest push here. Now that special effects can set the stage more closely to what the comic book makers envisioned and gave to their audience, the sky has become the limit and as we see more and more revenue towards streaming, there is every chance that the biggest delays will be finding the actors committing to a series and finding the right actors, manpower will become the largest obstacle for moviemakers in the foreseeable future. I will happily volunteer there, but I know I am no Inspector Ginko (or inspector Gadget for that matter).

Yet we can also look into the other direction, for that we merely need to seek out André Franquin and his office boy Gaston, every company seemingly has one and therefor would bring instant joy, laughter and entertainment on a global scale, all mostly untapped ideas as American Netflix has been too localised in their searches (as well as the method of finding new stuff). Yet with Disney Plus on the horizon and other players like Stan making more and more waves, we might see a bidding war for the IP rights of these works soon enough.

 

 

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What is Hiding Underwater

What is the reality of surface life? That is the first question that comes to mind when I look at the fallout that Brexit is creating. You see, to comprehend this part I need to take you back to the 15th April 1912, in that year New Mexico and Arizona become part of the Union that is now regarded as the United States of America and the first Balkan War has not yet started, no at this time the titanic sinks. The world gets introduced to the dangers of an Iceberg, the danger s that 90% of an iceberg remains below the surface. A lesson that will reverberate in many ways. This one event changes the rules of safety regulations for ships at sea forever (for the better I might add). The part that has been dramatized again and again is about a ship going down. It would not be until 1997 until someone truly turned this event into a money maker (James Cameron), it would fetch a little over 2 billion dollars, not a bad result for a movie. The reality is, that for most, the unknown fact was that the Titanic was the direct cause of something else. It would be the reason for something that was created in 1914, it was the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Let me add a little spice here. If the Titanic had not met up with that proverbial ice cube, there is a decent chance that the amount of fatalities from WW1 and WW2 would have been a lot higher.

You see, what lies beneath the surface is an issue, especially when we do not know what is there. We can only arm ourselves with the lessons we are taught and the common sense implementation that our logic allows for. So when I saw two articles today, my mind went into wander mode. The simplest of reasons is that certain events do not make sense. I feel that we are being played. This is a feeling I have and I could be massively wrong at this point. I accept that, but let me tell you about these articles and these facts and it will be up to you to decide.

  1. Construction becomes first casualty of Brexit as housebuilders get jitters‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/04/construction-first-casualty-brexit-housebuilders-jitters-eu-referendum).

So there has been a referendum and a vote has been cast. We now read “their stockpiles will reach to the moon and back. That’s the message from private sector house builders, which have looked into the industry’s crystal ball and concluded that there is no reason to expand supply for the next six months“, in addition we get “As the former head of the civil service Lord Turnbull said last week, the industry is extremely sensitive to economic sentiment and will not build a single house more than it believes can be sold” as well as “the industry is unable to build the homes that the nation needs, where it needs them and at a reasonable price“. You see, when we see messages on house shortages, on the fact that houses are absolutely unaffordable, is it not weird that one referendum, a referendum that will take time to sort out suddenly has this effect? As I see it, the prices have been pushed up and up in a bubble and the people have been victims. This is partially sown/proven when we consider “Tony Pidgley, the chairman of Berkeley Group, who pocketed a 42% rise in his take home pay to £23m last year, could not close the supply gap even if he wanted to“, as well as “He needs to make a profit for his hungry shareholders, who have set him a target of generating £2bn in pretax profit over three years from 2015“. So we now see that we have been the play toy of ‘hungry’ (read: greedy) shareholders. Exploitation of an unacceptable level and I wonder why the people at large accept this. Pardon my ‘off grammar’ English when I state “Can we get rid of these bloody shareholders, preferably with extreme prejudice?

You see, when we reread the article in another light we get:

  1. Pity the poor brick makers; Why? Bricks are needed, they have a certain cost and they are always needed.
  2. There is no reason to expand supply for the next six months; why? There is still a housing shortage.
  3. Will not build a single house more than it believes can be sold. Wrong? This is perception of when it will be sold. There is no need to not build, mainly because there is a housing shortage. People need houses.
  4. The industry is unable to build the homes that the nation needs, where it needs them and at a reasonable price. This is now proven to be untrue. This industry has become a vulture driving up prices artificially by reselling a house at times more than once, even before the house is build.

It seems to me that the law can be adjusted, so that a house cannot be sold until 2 years after the house/building has been completed. That takes out the speculative vultures and it would drop house prices to a level where a population at least 15% larger than initial would be able to afford a house. So when I read about Tony Pidgley and his shareholders, I would suggest that if Mr Pidgley desperately needs that 2 billion in profit, he should consider explaining to these shareholders how to make £20 per half hour selling services in areas like Soho? It sounds a bit over the top, but when we see profits that run into billions, we have truly overstated levels of acceptability. Perhaps moving away from the EU forcing another path where 64 million Brits could regain a life that is affordable is truly the best thing to do. Let’s not forget that an affordable mortgage, means that families will spend on quality of life, this implies that commerce will grow and no stimulus (in the way Mario Draghi is applying it) would be required.

The second article is actually a very different channel. The article ‘Standard Life shuts property fund amid rush of Brexit withdrawals‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/04/standard-life-shuts-property-fund-post-brexit-withdrawals). The quote here is “The £2.9bn fund, which invests in commercial properties including shopping centres, warehouses and offices, is thought to be the first UK property fund to suspend trading since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when some of the biggest names in investment management stopped withdrawals because they did not have the money to repay investors” and it makes me wonder what game is on here. The article links to ‘New Star halts property fund withdrawals‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/nov/26/new-star-suspends-investor-withdrawals), which was the 2008 meltdown. So now, when we see Standard Life’s property funds referring to “Investors in Standard Life’s property funds have been told that they cannot withdraw their money, after the firm acted to stop a rush of withdrawals following the UK’s decision to leave the EU“, I wonder how many investors, where they are from and the reasoning is behind the withdrawal.

You see, there are two options. The first one, the straight path is the one where we see the links to ‘shopping centres, warehouses and offices‘, these places are still needed, commerce will go on, even if the downturn is stronger, people need food, people need their goods. This will not change. The part that will change is the one we just dealt with. Unacceptable ‘profit margins’, which implies at present that these ‘investors’ are little more than vultures, do we need more of those?

It is the next quote that implies that there is a secondary path: “The selling process for real estate can be lengthy as the fund manager needs to offer assets for sale, find prospective buyers, secure the best price and complete the legal transaction. Unless this selling process is controlled, there is a risk that the fund manager will not achieve the best deal for investors in the fund, including those who intend to remain invested over the medium to long term”, here I wonder if the fund manager has been ‘juicing’ expectations, which could only continue in a ‘Bremain’ world. The fact that the news cycles go wider as the mere intent that the reality of Brexit made the Dow buckle is equally weird (initially).

When we consider the words from Mark Carney, who stated “U.K. banks can be part of the solution, not part of the problem“, in that mindset I can offer a first option. If we get rid of Tony Pidgley and his shareholders, the UK gets to not see these 2 Billion go elsewhere. Now, let’s be fair, the UK would never make that much on it, so if the coffers can accept a mere £200 million as a profit margin, an amount that is most likely more than taxation of the 2 billion, the UK coffers still win and life becomes a little more affordable in the UK for all who buy a house.

I will be the first one to admit that my view is not realistic and too optimistic, yet am I wrong? The housing bubble is only one event that needs to be fought. Taxation loopholes have to be dealt with, dealing with the s a decade overdue and it is one of several reasons that the UK economy is in such a bad slump. Now we get additional news that the EU is in an even worse state than we have been kept informed about. The Australian gives us “Italy’s banking system is in trouble, with about $540 billion of non-performing loans and a desperate need for new capital. Given the dearth of willing alternative capital-providers, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wants to inject the equivalent of about $60bn of public funding into the system to try to stabilise it. The problem for Renzi and Italy — and the EU — is that the rules of the European Banking Union forbid taxpayer bailouts as the first resort for troubled banks” (at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/stephen-bartholomeusz/italys-banking-crisis-a-bigger-problem-than-brexit/news-story/d4e0c5007fb133db959cc569f9678804), the Italian issue has been known and I have reported on it in the past, yet the fact that banks are still the biggest issue in the EU and they still have not been muzzled to the extent that they need to be remains an issue. An issue that shows on another level that Brexit was not the worst idea. So when we see Reuters stating ‘Draghi could have done more to help Italian banks in 90’s, says PM Renzi‘ whilst this issue has been known for well over a year and for the fact that Italy’s antiquated bankruptcy laws have never been properly dealt with, especially in light of the 2004 and 2008 events makes me wonder where Matteo Renzi got the idea to blame other places, when his office should have made clear priority in these matters and he should have made equal mention that people like Enrico Letta, Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi who had been Prime Minister in batches going back to 1994 forgot to deal with that situation, and now we see that the EU is in a state much less healthy than most predicted. I knew about several issues, but not all, it seems that all news on the stat of the EU have been overstated by way too many players in this game and it makes me wonder in equal measure how it was possible for Mario Draghi to spend over a trillion that he is still ready to spend even more.

So in light of all this, how could the UK return to a place that is killing itself, that is allowing for inaction that is not prosecuted in any way. So when you watch Rose Dawson push Leonardo DiCaprio to his icy grave, consider that the EU debt is like that Iceberg, it can sink anything and 90% is kept below the surface, sustaining the tropical life of less than 1,000 banking executives. The people in the UK need their own Safety of Life against Greed (SOLAG). If these players were decently less greedy, none of this would have happened. Perhaps one day we will see a modern European Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and we will accept his book ‘The SOLAG archipelago’ and the wave it brings as a given wisdom.

Time will tell!

 

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Supporting exploitation

This time, there is a different issue in play, this time, I have felt the consequence of both crime and scheming, all in one nice package. Part of this is set in the article ‘Robbed of a mobile, but we have to pick up the thief’s phone bill. Why?‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/feb/11/robbed-mobile-thiefs-phone-bill).

Now, my mobiles has been stolen, it has been broken and a few other issues have gone my way. Now in the first, I have to admit that I was with Optus at the time, stolen mobile, we had a business account and to my surprise, a new mobile and no hassle (just a small fee). This was great, the doom feeling of what had happened was a feeling that some places are great to be connected to. Now in the article we see the following quote: “it’s worth pointing out that you are not liable for any charges once you’ve reported a phone lost or stolen. But there are often good reasons why this may not be immediately possible, and during the briefest of delays, thieves can run up catastrophic charges“. Yes, this is true, but there is also an initial solution. You see, no matter how important you are as a business person, your ego is getting in the way fast. You see, disabling International calls on day one, in addition to 1900 and 1902 numbers stops massive costs coming your way. There is also the embarrassment you have when your boss asks you which distributor had 1900-blow-my-mobile is also worth the day one blocking action.

The next paragraph is the kicker: “In 2012, Ofcom gave service providers until that summer to present plans to cap customers’ liabilities and declared they would face enforcement action if they failed. Nothing happened. In December 2013 the government announced that six of the big providers had finally agreed a cap, and that, from spring 2014, customers – like victims of bank card theft – would not have to pay more than around £50 for thieves’ phone calls. Nothing happened. A year on, only Three has introduced protection – customers are liable for only the first £100 before a phone is reported missing, provided they report it within 24 hours“, so when you are on holiday or on business abroad, and your phone gets stolen, the chance of you notifying your stolen phone in time is not an option.

The paragraph becomes even more interesting if you Google the following “Ofcom spineless useless“, you get 32,000 hits. So we can say that whatever Ofcom pretends to be, which by their own statements is “Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries” (at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/), we can state with some certainty that it has failed the British people close to 100%. This view does not evolve in any positive way when we look at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/competition-bulletins/complaints-disputes/, where we see ‘Ofcom’s Approach to Complaints and Disputes‘, the text on that page is “This page provides links to guidance that Ofcom has produced setting out our powers and processes we will follow in conducting investigations into adherence with regulatory rules, consumer protection issues, competition issues and resolving regulatory disputes“, with a few PDF links, so how useful is Ofcom?

Well, the Guardian had this to say: “It would seem Ofcom is waiting for the government to do something and the government is waiting for the phone companies to find a solution“, which is not even close to the actual part, it seems that Ofcom is all about sort of regulating issues, but awaiting feedback from stakeholders in regards to these actions (which are likely to be phone companies and when we see the Telecoms Complaints Bulletin on Ofcom, we see a few charts on silent calls and unwanted marketing calls. So is Ofcom basically a report valve that gives the telecom companies a signal when marketeers and phone companies have to simmer down a little bit?

So when we see the claim “Ed Vaizey, the digital economy minister, met the big players last month. Once again they promised a code of practice, but, strangely, still haven’t agreed on the details. “We expect the networks to confirm shortly details of liability caps and when they will be introduced,” says the Department of Media, Culture and Sport“, we must wonder if Mr Vaizey is actually seriously looking into an issue that has played for many years now.

The next part involves Vodafone (or Vodafail as some call it) and opens up an entirely new can of worms, one that I myself have been privy to.

Vodafone says it has agreed to “explore” a cap but the sticking point is how to do that without destroying the incentive to report a phone missing. “We do not want to create an environment where it is even more attractive for criminals to focus on theft,” it says“, you see, that is not the Vodafone I have been experiencing!

So, last year I had a heart attack, this happens, as it happens I had a sim for my iPad with Vodafone, which is a data only thing. Now, I admit, I was late with paying, which is my own fault and whilst in hospital, they had cut me off. With that I had no issue; I was late, my own fault, as I stated before. Now comes the kicker, whilst in hospital  and after that in recovery, I learned that even though cut off, I am still liable for ALL COSTS, so that means that whilst cut off, I am still due all monthly expenses, even when disconnected. The fact that I had had a heart attack did not interest them. So I am still in a legal fight with Vodafone, I accept the initial costs, but the months after that I refuse, so it is due to go to court at some point. Vodafone might state it is exploring, yet its main need is to stay afloat, which makes them close to desperate. That part is seen with ‘Mobile users flee Vodafone Australia‘, which started in 2013. The quote “Vodafone Hutchison Group lost 600,000 customers in the three months ending September 30, even as its British parent first-half results showed a return to profit” is only the tip of the iceberg that will sink the ‘Vodafonic’ (that event filmed by James Cameron, where you see Leonardo DiCaprio drown in icy cold water at http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2013/11/13/technology/mobile-users-flee-vodafone-australia). The fact that Vodafone is still linked to a class action brought by Piper Alderman should indicate that Vodafone has a league of issues, capping is not even close to their essential need to solve.

But we go back to the issue at hand regarding phone bills. The article ends with the realisation that in an election year these issues will not be addressed, which means that this issue will stay around until at least 2016, which is odd as we consider the article ‘Bankrupted by a mobile phone bill‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/dec/07/mobile-phone-bill-cap-theft), which is 14 months old. The issue, that was raised and gave way for the quote “culture secretary Maria Miller told journalists in Beijing this week that a deal had been struck to introduce a bank card-style limit to a consumer’s liability – possibly as low as £50“. In my view as a Tory, both Maria Miller and Ed Vaizey need to wake up fast and start a few fires in the halls of telecom corporations. You see, it is after all an election year and should Labour or Ukip achieve that what the conservatives could not, the fallout will be, as I see it a conservative unpopular one (well over 80% of the population worries about their mobile bill), because governing from the opposition bench is not governing at all, it is merely spouting critique to those who govern. The first course of action, as I personally see it, is to shake up the Ofcom executive committee by replacing Steve Unger, Polly Weitzman and Jonathan Oxley. I reckon the signal that the chief executive, the general council and the group director for Competition are replaced by individuals with bite, who will hunt issues for the victims and the general audience, might give the signal to the Telecom companies to act now, or accept a much harsher deal soon after the elections are done. The reality is, that when that signal comes, they will all quickly agree with the Three policy, which means a £100 cap and possible a reporting extension to a max of 72 hours, which would be fair.

Yet, this is not even close to the only thing in play, you see, last month Google made an announcement to no longer support any Android version before KitKat (v4.4). This means that not only are people almost forced into new mobiles, the flaws, gaps and other issues that might pop up are at the heart of what follows and that what is already happening to the current mobile user base (including myself). First there are the iPhones. Apple is already experiencing the class action in that regard. The fact that IOS is taking up around 20% is just bizarre. Apple could have saved itself a lot of hassle by just having the 64Gb phone at a 16Gb price, I was told (from an unconfirmed source) that the parts involved costed no more than $49. So how ridiculous is the entire issue that Apple is forcing upon Apple? Let’s not forget they have around 170 billion in loose change. Now, I am not stating that they had to pay for it, but to just set the 64Gb edition at $799 would have saved them a boatload of hassles. In this Android is not without faults either. The new phones, with 2Gb ram and 16Gb storage drops down a lot in Android. There, of the 2Gb you are only left with 1Gb and you lose an easy 30% of your 16Gb. Now, that is still a decent amount, but to consider that my old smartphone, which was 1Gb with 4Gm storage has now dwindled to a 250Mb phone (so I can run 2 apps at the most), with just 2.4Gb storage is not what I signed up for. As Google became too clever for its own good, adding more and more trash I never want or need, setting dozens of updates which no longer let my phone work is now at the core of my problem. I cannot even deactivate most, it shows up at EVERY update, selecting what I actually need and not what Google thinks I might like is at the core of my growing resent of Android. And with every app pushed out, there is additional danger that the security of my phone gets compromised, especially as Jellybean is no longer supported.

Yet there is more. I am now looking at a new phone, whilst I know the limitations I face. The strongest was the Huawei Mate7 premium. Now, here is the kicker, the 3Gb phone with 32Gb storage will only get you 1.7Gb RAM and 25Gb from day one, Android takes the rest and this is close to the strongest phone that a limited budget can buy. In Australia the smallest iPhone starts at $1000, the 64Gb, which would be a minimum choice is 20% more expensive, whilst these phones only have 1Gb RAM. This all seems as short-sighted as the developers of Xbox One showed to have. Yet, it must also be said that 1Gb seems to suffice for Apple, that is shown in this small article (at http://www.phonearena.com/news/Why-Android-phones-need-3GB-of-RAM-and-iOS-gets-by-with-1GB-of-the-stuff_id62901), yes IOS is more efficient, but as IOS evolves, so will the need for RAM, which when it starts to be too little would of force us to upgrade again. Was it such a jump to set the iPhone RAM to 2Gb? When you become a penny pincher, you face class actions and that is exactly what Apple faces now. Although I remain (for now) Android minded, and When we compare the Nexus 6 (the very latest), we see that it only almost equals the Huawei Mate7 premium. The Nexus is however $100 more, whilst the screen resolution was a lot more impressive on the Huawei, but that could just be the Jazz screensaver. This shows that Huawei is not just the Android player, with the P7 and Mate7, Huawei is now the contender that makes Google sweat. Like Apple, Google could have saved themselves a lot of hassle by not skimping on resources, which could have pulled the customers in like a magnet, now in the margins they will see customers slip through their fingers, which will be an unsettling feeling for whomever misses out on commission.

All this as the providers supported exploitation; we see that the massive losses are now showing as the margins are not worth considering for some. The same could be said for the upcoming Samsung S6, it looks amazing, but as they fix one issue by being a 4Gb RAM player, they waste it on bringing a 32Gb version, which might suffice for now, but what in 2 years? Getting the 64Gb version makes sense, but then it becomes a $1240 millstone around your neck. So as I see it, Huawei is the budget choice, which still gives you a top of the line contender, iPhone and Nexus are slowly pricing themselves away by offering the entry option, which is a joke as we see space used.

All this now links back to the issue of phone theft and the inactions of Ofcom. If stolen bandwidth and phone time is all there is, than you are gravely mistaken, these smartphones are not just a connection, they are a link to your diary, your details, your credit, your access and your future. Soon, we will see that organised crime will not just call their mommy in Samarkand, Zhengzou, Davao or Vung Tao. Soon they will transfer your data and access and see what else is under the hood. That is the added danger of the smartphone, because you had one more mail to read, one more file to see or one more connection to make, all that in applications that were never closed and accessed be merely starting the application. You see, what we ‘need’ to have, came first, and we all seem to forget the consequences of such choices. Ofcom cannot be held responsible for this, but they should have set up several parameters a long time ago, as they remained inactive in the phone charges issue, they also did little to nothing into changing certain parameters in connection monitoring and non-repudiation, all that left to whomever else, that is the danger we will face in 2015 and 2016. Unless there is a drastic event that shakes up the media, there is every indication that nothing will be done until it is too late.

History taught us that there is nothing as effective as taking away someone’s cushy job to make the next person consider showing their teeth from day one, but that might just be my imagination.

 

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Boosting Pensions

Would you like to lose your pension? This is more than just a simple question. If you live anywhere in Europe, then the danger to your pension is a lot more realistic and will have a larger impact then you thought there would be.

Let’s take a look at a few countries.

Netherlands.
This was already under review, however, at present there are discussions going on to get a handle on accessing pensions for all kinds of reasons. The image in part is that the Dutch government needs this treasure vault to deal with more immediate issues as well as well as the application of spending to start an economy. As reported yesterday by the NOS, the issue at present is that the government thinks it is getting access to billions a year extra. The ABP comes to the conclusion that the changes will in the end cost billions, not save them. This comes as the government is presently trying to cut almost 3 billion Euro in retirement funding. The cut back was based on the fact that businesses and employees will save-up less per year, which might save 1000 euro, which would suit the government, as this gives them a taxation windfall of 2.3 billion. In the new system it is stated that not only do people lose the 1000 euro advantage, they will have to pay more. So there would be zero advantage, even worse, considering the amount of government jobs the treasury would be down a billion, so in the end no savings at all for the poor poor coffer, only additional losses to deal with. At a time when 6 billion in cut-backs are needed, this is not the bad news they want to hear. All this has a few more hooks. Especially when we consider the questions by Hachchi (D66) in regards pension premium raises that the ABP added in January 2012. The costs were raised by 300 million euro, as documented in  2012Z01310 (source: http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/bestanden/documenten-en-publicaties/kamerstukken/2012/03/06/antwoorden-inzake-de-verhoging-van-de-pensioenpremie-door-het-abp/antwoorden-inzake-de-verhoging-van-de-pensioenpremie-door-het-abp.pdf)

It is interesting that a similar issue is now appearing only one year later. There is more!

In one view we read that the ABP in 2010 was set at 105% coverage (which means that if 100% pension is paid out, 5% remains for growth). It is however interesting to read from the NRC (at: http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2011/12/01/abp-verhoogt-pensioenen-niet/) we read that in December 2011 the coverage was only 94%, so in one year they went down to some degree. The same can be read at http://www.pensioenbelangen.nl/label/abp/ , more interesting, the numbers state that per September 2012 is was only at 101%. So if we recall the blog I wrote a week ago “The Age of ‘no retirement left’ is coming“, it is interesting that in that case the government is stating so much wealth. As the ABP is considered to be the largest one, we should wonder whether the Dutch politicians have any clue on what they are doing. More important, is this about short sighted cutting avoidance, or is it about more. Do not worry, they are not alone, we will have some fun looking at the UK situation next.

Is there actual evidence to support my theories? Well, the sources above clearly show that the ABP is only marginally above 100%, yet they had remained below 98% for a decent amount of time, so there is a valid amount of concern. In addition, when we consider the questions as stated in

2012Z01310, then certain issues in the recovery measures of pensions were not known, yet the initial billing would have been there, so this again is a piece of evidence that reflects 11th hour budgeting. The fact that this was never completely properly addressed remains a worry and not a reflective concern considering that in part the same issues are now again in the news.

The issues are only part of the entire picture. The fact that the Dutch pension administrator PGGM, has stated that there are issues with Walmart, could have some serious repercussions. Reuters quotes that “PGGM held 2.76 million shares of Wal-Mart as of March 31” (at: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/dutch-pension-group-halts-wal-211416613.html) this was only last week. Should the PGGM pull out then there would be concerns on both isles of the Atlantic river. Those shares represent well over 200 million, which means that Wal-mart might get some renewed problems down the line. Whether this would be due to PGGM is not a given, the fact that questions from a shareholder holding almost 3 million shares are not answered is certainly matter for concern. If we consider the economic downturn the Dutch have faced over the last 2 years, considering the issues the IMF reported in 2011 on Dutch pension funds. In that time, people entering their retirement saw their funds cut and a support capital of 50 billion was needed. So when we read less than 2 years later that those finds are so rich and that they should be opened for additional means, whilst a week later we read on some of the alleged dangers, it seems to me that playing politics with pensions is a very bad and not too bright idea. The 2011 article can be found at http://www.europeanpensions.net/ep/imf-team-recommends-adjustments-to-dutch-second-pillar-system.php

United Kingdom.

So, let’s take a look at Australia’s baby brother UK (as UK is only 3% of the size of Australia). The UK is in dangers no less immediate. The Guardian reported last November that issues would impact greatest on savers and pensioners. Yet, the story behind several issues is not brought here. For that we should look at what is happening now. Part of that is set here as http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/capital-markets-climate-change-pension-funds. Is that even a fair assessment? If we read the quote “The way pension funds invest will determine the future, which means that to thrive they’ll need to wake up to climate change” I will wonder whether this is wishful thinking of whichever politician or investor whispered to the author. When we looked at the Netherlands and other places, these nations are all looking at sustainability solutions. Yet at present the ROI of these options are not up to scrap, so WHY use pensions there. These are fields that have been ignored be several administrations. If it is SO lucrative, then why not invest in it yourself (me asking governments)? Yes, it will be the future, but at present too expensive, so getting articles out there for pension funds to invest in the future might read nice, but as ROI reports falter it will not hold a candle up to the coming rage. This view is shared by James Cameron, chairman of cleantech investor Climate Change Capital. I know that the next part sounds dodgy as hell, but when we consider the quote “Future pensioners are going to have to bear more of the investment risk themselves“. In that case Pension funds are much better of owning parts of Raytheon and Northrop-Grumman. It seems that governments all over the world are seemingly ready at the drop of any hat to buy missile technologies, and as such the ROI for pension funds are much better off going to those places. I agree that the statement is less appealing to read, but why should pensions now be put under more and more pressure whilst, those behind the scenes refused to budge when they should have done so. The investment risk reads like a joke considering the article published in May at http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/may/22/one-five-poverty-line-state-pension where it states that  20% of those retiring this year will fall below the poverty line. This is in my mind the consequence of a housing issue never properly dealt with for over 27 years, whilst pensions were left alone. Taking both in the balance, then pensions might cover 80%-100% of the rent for this year, and those will come up short 2014 and later. So that is in the most positive case where people do not need to eat or drink ever. This is only for those not living in London, living there would almost amount to instant suicide. At least the Dutch can claim that their retirement issue had never been THAT bad. So, as there is a collective boost to raise the value of the RBS, that former bastion might be used to actually boost and increase value and strength of British pensions as they focus on getting back on the horse of profit (or at least try to get on that horse). Pensions are being cut in other ways too. That part can be read at: http://www.independent.co.uk/money/pensions/expats-call-for-fairer-pension-payouts-8659717.html. Some of these pensioners (almost 10%), saw the unaffordable future they saw coming their way and as such they moved to other areas. Some saw the light in time and bought a small place on Crete, some left for alternative Mediterranean locations and some went to the warmer regions of South Africa. These people saw the light, saw the non-linear growing costs and chose a better solution. It goes even further. What is less than possible in the UK becomes very affordable in India, where a week’s pension gets you a 2 bedroom secured apartment for a month, considering that rent is the most expensive part, three weeks of pension should keep a person well fed. So why not consider this? Instead of going on an exotic vacation, live in an exotic place, and of course, the Indians are all on average Cricket nut, so not the worst place to be during Cricket season. If these people are forced back because of pension issues, would the British government have the means to suddenly appoint housing to these people? They might not get an option in this as they froze pensions. In that regard, I do hope that the Exchequer George Osborne considered the consequence of even part of those 1.2 million pensioners returning to England and his 2 billion pound winter fuel allowance. That is only one post. On the other side, there is a genuine and acceptable concern of the people who are abusing that system. There had been earlier mention of the situation where UK men marrying Thai brides is a reason for the foreign pensions increase. If we voice the scenario where a pensioner marries a woman under 25 and she then gets the allowance after he is gone, then this would indeed be an unfair use of the system. We could argue that a marriage, not validated in the UK would not be seen as a marriage (I know, the legal nightmare behind this is so not nice). However, that those who never added to the British system, not being eligible for those funds would be slightly better phrased, yet the consequences for consulates to keep track of these people would be almost disastrous. Even though this would be spread over several countries, the fact that they could be required to deal with over 700,000 additional requests a year, is not likely to become a ‘relief’ to the system. Yet I must agree that something must be done. The dangers of cutting the transferred pension, if there was a marriage, could mean that these people might have a claim on humanitarian grounds to receive full Visa and transfers into the UK, which in the end might add up to be a lot more expensive. The only solution could be legislative, yet which of the ‘evils’ to choose from is not really for now. In my mind the options grows to make the pension only transferable if the marriage was longer then a certain period (5 years) or the spouse must have been a UK resident or lived, worked and paid taxes in the UK for no less than 10 years. I am just grasping the 5 years out of thin air, yet this would limit the dangers of UK pension abuse, it would also give a clear message to the valid pensioners that THEY are protected, yet that there are limits on passing over a basic state pension. In regards to those who are valid recipients of the basic state pension and their foreign setbacks there is more information at http://pensionjustice.org/.

 

Germany.

We should consider the German system, even though it is thought to be strong, secure and to some extent safe. They share the dangers those in the UK currently have. As reported by The Spiegel at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germans-fear-poverty-in-retirement-even-after-life-of-work-a-855352.html, even though their economy is in a strong state, the lost investments, the futures of retirement are almost none existing. In fact, their pensions are a lot worse of then the UK ones. A person there would end up getting a mere 32% of their income. If we consider the Dutch system where 70% does not even foot the bill, the desperation of 32% is a lot less appealing. The question becomes important when we consider the required pension buffers these pension funds need to have. The interesting addition is that a report in 2012 from the labour ministry stated that “the Labour Ministry itself, which indicates about a third of current full-time employees could end up receiving social welfare unless the pension system is changed. Those who have spent 35 years working full time but earn less than 2,500 euros a month would also end up depending on welfare.

So this is the third country playing politics for non-visible short gain and massive shortages in the long term. This gives serious concern for the bill the Germans adopted that as of January 2013 “for a reduction in the statutory pension contribution rates”. And that helps your citizens…..how?

So this is not just a national issue, this is a European issue on several levels. Unless some strong actions are taken, a large part of Europe will enter living conditions worse than that of several 3rd world countries, whilst comfortable living would be found for those moving to places like India and Argentina.

Go figure!

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About Entertainment

I stumbled upon an article by Gilbert Cruz called “The Lone Ranger Represents Everything That’s Wrong with Hollywood Blockbusters” (at: http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/lone-ranger-is-everything-wrong-with-hollywood.html). It is actually quite a nice read and the conclusions that I personally do not completely agree with are still well supported and seem to make sense.

His ‘unease’ with franchises are well accepted by many including me, as we read and have spoken out against these reiterations often enough. when addressing the origin story problem he states “Give us a story that works and then, if you’re lucky enough to earn a sequel, you can give us flashes of an origin tale down the road, as opposed to weighing down your first movie.” That is one view, yet it is the view of the director that counts. It should be about the vision of the director. Perhaps it is less about the origin story and more about having a visionary director. My view is supported by mentioning the hidden gem ‘Margin Call‘. I think that this is a movie any economic student should watch. It watches like a story, yet there are layers of events that give it all an actual strength. The fact is also about a story portraying the initial stages of the 2008 financial crises are set in a movie.
Can anything be more dull then that? And even though this movie is pretty much all star, it required a visionary director to pull it off. That is how I see the origin story as well, without vision it is a presentation. It does not matter whether we watch a movie containing a Wild Wild West version of Sparrow, or the start of the lone ranger. the same for Thor, Spiderman and so forth, how they ‘became’ is part of the movie, but how to address it?

This dilemma is approached within the slogan of TV channel ‘FX’. “The story is everything!” I think when it comes to TV channels; it is the most brilliant slogan ever. Yes, we remember the special effects, we see the stars we love and idolise, but without the story…. (Imagine the sound of a flop!).

This is also why (for now) I stayed away from the Hobbit. I loved the lord of the rings. I have been a fan of Tolkien since long before I was at the legal drinking age. So seeing the movie was a massive moment in my life for me. Like many fans I did mentally object loudly when the freeing of the shire was missing (as this is the moment the hobbits experience what those around them went through), yet to see the book on the big screen was a moment I loved. To see the Hobbit was indeed something I was looking forward to, yet to see a 320 page book in 3 movies of around 3 hours each is stretching it all a bit thin.

So as most might agree with, is the fact that a good story requires a visionary. Perhaps this is why James Cameron has been so successful? 2 movies bringing in almost 5 billion is just insane! We should not forget that timing is also extremely important. I feel that this is shown when looking at ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘a man called horse’, which was a shining moment for Richard Harris. Perhaps the world was not ready for the ‘going native’ view in the 70’s.

The article stamps out a side I actually never gave much notice of. He states “So in order to ensure sequels and appeal to the maximum number of people, it must be rated PG or PG-13. Good luck finding an R-rated summer blockbuster.” He makes a fine point here. I want to see a movie that is good; I am not all in favour of bloody or bloodless movies if they hinder a sense of realism. Although I was never a fan of zombie films, the ‘realistic’ view ‘the Waking dead’ brings, is why I am eye locked to the small screen. So, the ratings requiring certain lack of levels of gore would be counterproductive to me. I do not believe that it is about gore and blood-letting. This is why I enjoyed the movie ‘the A-team’, where with 17,000 bullet you see no one gunned down (keeping in pace with the original TV series), yet the opposite of ‘Act of Valor’ is a gem as it is about the efficiency of making every bullet count (Navy Seals apparently are not about wasting time). So my stance floats a little with the movie I am watching, again, the story makes it happen.

This is why the hammer on ‘The Lone Ranger’ feels a little harsh to me. If it is about entertainment, then the Lone Ranger provides, yet the points the article brings up should not be ignored either. This is a Disney movie and Disney factor is important as that brand has a following with an audience they need to protect. Consider that the (Grand) parents, with younglings on a day out will see the protection that the Disney logo brings and as such a gore driven Zombie film with a Disney logo is unlikely to ever happen.

The final part where I slightly disagree with the views Gilbert Cruz offers, is when he mentions The Phantom and The Shadow. These 90’s movies failed because there was a lack of vision (as I see it). The characters are well established through the radio shows and the comic books. If we consider the slogan of FX and if we consider a slightly more Frank Miller themed view, then consider Howard Chaykin’s ‘The Shadow: Blood & Judgment’. That was more than just a mere piece of comic book. That was graphic art on an entirely different level. As much as Baldwin failed to portray the Shadow, the blame should fall to the lack of vision the director showed (perhaps with a small degree of ‘technology lacking’ options). Consider what Tarsem Singh achieved with ‘Immortal’, now let him have a go at ‘The Shadow: Blood & Judgment’. The result could be a lot more than a cult movie that we will remember for a long time. The result could be a blockbuster R-rated movie. Again, it is about timing and for 2013-2015 the timing seems right to take these old ‘heroes’ off the shelves and give them to visionaries, not to the directors that come from the ‘Hollywood blockbuster template machine’. In that regard we all hope that Luc Besson will achieve to revive the French hero that should be seen as an international landmark. As he is remembered for the Fifth Element, this visionary could make the heroes Valérian and Laureline truly immortal. As franchises go, a trilogy of these two characters could reshape the way people see comic book heroes. The only sad fact is that this movie arrives almost 40 years after I read the comic books. Even now, I still remember the art of Jean-Claude Mézières. What is also intriguing is that the art you see in ‘The City of Shifting Waters’ had a lot of similarities that the TV-Series ‘Revolutions’ showed almost 35 years after the comic book came.

It is also interesting that, considering the success of the lord of the rings and the implied upcoming blockbusters that the Hobbit seems to become, that not a larger net was cast on the type stories that have this epic view. We all remember Flash Gordon. Some trough the view of Ted (a McFarlane sense of humour), some through the exquisite music by Queen, however I still think back to the comics as drawn in the 60’s and 70’s. In that same style there are the stories of the ‘Trigan Empire’. It seems so strange that these successful works of art still have not made it to the big screen.

So I believe that there are plenty of options out there, it just takes faith (and funding) in one visionary to take that step forward.

 

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