Mary Poppins Returns

I have long been a huge fan of Mary Poppins and, when I heard that a sequel was on the way, I was determined not only to see it, but to drag the kids along with me. Of course, when you are dealing with such a classic film, sequels and remakes always carry more than a little risk but Kermode liked it, so it was with some enthusiasm that we all traipsed out to the cinema on Saturday afternoon.

We were not disappointed.

The film is set in the 1930s and rejoins the Banks family where a now-grown Michael Banks is trying to cope with the loss of his wife and the impending loss of his house. His sister, Jane is trying to help him hold things together as are his three children. And into their lives returns Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt).

Mary Poppins Returns covers much the same territory as Mary Poppins with Jane’s workers’ rights activism taking over from Winifred Banks’ campaign for votes for women and Jack the lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) taking over Cockney duties from Bert the chimney sweep. As with the first film, though, the the real focus is the father, who is too wrapped up in his own concerns.

The film takes a bit of time to get going and the songs don’t have the same instant memorability as those in the original — although the one about tripping the light fantastic was toe-tappingly fun — but the heart of the film was in exactly the same place and Blunt and Miranda’s increasingly charming double act holds things together wonderfully.

Mary Poppins Returns hits all the same beats as Mary Poppins. The fantastical adventures are similarly fantastic, if a little darker, and the songs, by turns, fun and moving, if not quite as memorable. But the film manages to repeat the emotional punch of its predecessor and is everything I hqd hoped for.

In 2018 I have been mostly listening to… Dance Hall Crashers

Not only do I still buy CDs, but I still scrobble them to Last.fm. This means that, at the end of the year I receive an overview of my year in music.

For 2018, this tells me that I have been listening to a lot of ska. The band to which I have spent most time listening is Mustard Plug (no surprises there) but my most played album in 2018 was Honey, I’m Homely! by the Dance Hall Crashers.

This album also provided my most listened to song of 2018, The Truth About Me.

And here it is.

Democracy in action

The Belgian local elections back in October saw the mainstream parties losing out to the margins — the Greens and the far-right Vlaams Belang being the big winners. Most of the coalition agreements are now in place and new mayors are taking their places in councils up and down the country.

Not everything is settled, though, and we are still seeing the fall-out from the far right’s revival, most notably in the east Flemish town of Ninove, where Forza Ninove (the local iteration of Vlaams Belang) won most of the seats. Most of the seats is not a majority and none of the other three groups were willing for enter a coalition with the extremists.

The N-VA’s two councillors chose to sit this one out creating a stalemate in which neither the far-right nor the proposed Liberal-Socialist coalition was able to command an overall majority. This stalemate was broken last week when one of the N-VA councillors split with his own party to support the liberal-left coalition. This means that Ninove now has a new municipal council, and the far right have been excluded from the cabinet.

All good stuff, but on Thursday various far-right groups got together to have a march and a whine.

When I saw this, I first thought of the Paradox of Tolerance, which was defined by Karl Popper and can be summarised as:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

But I don’t think that this really applies in this case because the so-called March for democracy is inherently disingenuous.

It is quite reasonable for a political party to decide, on the basis of very divergent values, that no deal with another party is even worth considering. Moreover, Belgian politics has a long established principle of the Cordon Sanitaire in which mainstream agree to not deal with the far right — this was an explicit agreement in the case of the now defunct Vlaams Blok and remains as an understanding when dealing with Vlaams Belang.

No-one prevented Forza Ninove from putting up candidates and campaigning in the local elections. No-one was prevented from voting for Forza Ninove.

If no-one wants to deal with your party, this is not an attack on democracy but a reflection of the obnoxiousness of your politics.

NVIDIA

A quick update to my previous post. The excessive CPU issue returned and, after some poking around the problem proved to be the NVIDIA graphics driver, which doesn’t play nice with Wayland.

Fortunately, the resolution is simple: You simply need to edit /etc/gdm/custom.conf and uncomment the line that says WaylandEnable=false.

And now, everything appears to be working as expected.

The Gecko saves the day

I nearly titled this post I Hate EFI because it really is a pain. But first, some context.

Having gone through several increasingly oversized laptops over the past few years, I took the decision just before Christmas to treat myself to a decent PC workstation. This duly arrived and, this week, I started assembling the system. Once everything was plugged in, I booted into Windows to confirm that all the hardware was working and then, being a Linux user, I set about replacing the operating system. This is where the fun began.

I have been using Antergos for a while and this is the first distro I attempted to install. The install itself when fine and everything seemed to be successful, until I rebooted. It turned out that the PC wouldn’t reboot unless I left the USB from which I had installed the OS plugged in. As far as I can tell, it was still using the EFI partition on the USB stick so I tried to resolve this by reinstalling with a little more care taken with the partitions. After this, it wouldn’t reboot at all.

After several attempts, I gave up and downloaded OpenSUSE Tumbleweed instead. As with Antergos, the install went smoothly and I even managed to reboot the PC. Then Tracker-Store went mad and started sucking up all of my CPU. So I reinstalled again, this time taking care to reformat my home partition. After several reboots and much checking, I’m feeling confident enough to tempt fate by claiming that everything is working. So this weekend I shall be mainly installing applications and restoring data.

I like OpenSUSE. It’s an unflashy, dependable distro that uncomplainingly copes with whatever I throw at it. Crucially, of the various distros I’ve tried, OpenSUSE is the one that best supports very new hardware — if all else fails, OpenSUSE will probably work.

I moved away from it in the past because I much prefer rolling releases. But with Tumbleweed now offering a stable rolling model I may well stick with it, for a while at least.

Mandarin

One game that came out over Christmas was Mandarin, a game I haven’t seen before and one that appears to now be out of print, but it’s quite a nice little game (that comes in a rather large box).

Up to five people can play, each of whom gets a coloured mandarin playing piece that travels around a circular board. Depending on where the piece lands, the player can either draw some money or use the dispenser.

The dispenser dispenses tiles and the aim of the game is to collect tiles — either one tile of each of the 12 animals representing the signs of the Chinese zodiac, or all six tiles of a single animal. Tiles are ejected randomly from the dispenser either face up or face down — and this is where the fun begins.

The first tile is free and the player can choose to keep it or risk it. If they keep it (and this is the only option if the tile comes out face up), they take the tile and their turn ends. If the tile comes out face down, the player can choose to risk it and eject another tile, and can keep on ejecting tiles until either they decide to stop and take what’s been ejected or a tile comes out face up.

If a tile comes out face up, all players can start bidding for the ejected tiles.

Of course, when the bidding starts, you know the colour and animal of one tile, so it is necessary to try to figure out which animals are on the face down tiles. This is helped by the use of collection cards of which each player has one, and which have a place for every tile. These allow every player to see both how close each of the other players are to completing a set and exactly what tiles have been dispensed so far.

Early on, this doesn’t matter so much, but as the games progressed judging which collection of tiles are worth bidding for, and how high you are willing to bid, is what makes the difference between winning and losing.

I only had one real quibble with the game, and that was with keeping track of who controlled which animal. When someone gains three or more tiles for a single animal, they are deemed to be in control of the three spaces on the board associated with that animal and can charge a tax when other players land on those spaces. The problem is that, with nothing on the board to indicate ownership, it is easy to miss that you owe taxes when you land in the sector. We resolved this a couple of times by simply abandoning the control and tax rule but a visual marker of some type would have been nice.

All in all, Mandarin proved to be a surprisingly fun bidding game and one that the kids came back to several times. If it wasn’t for the fact that it appears to be no longer in print, I would certainly be adding it to our family games collection.

The strange rebirth of Liberal Europe

Over at Thinking Liberal, Matthew Green asks if 2019 will be the year of the Liberal backlash.

This liberal backlash is based on two things. Firstly that younger people don’t hold with the anti-liberal movement. For them global warming is a real threat, and diversity a real asset. This needs qualification: less educated youngsters are picking up on the right-wing attack, and indeed they are behind a lot of the associated violence. But they form a lower proportion than they used to, and are prone to apathy. Meanwhile a large part of the original backlash comes from older people. This gives the potential for the pendulum to swing back. Time may be on the liberals’ side.

I’m not entirely convinced. While it is true that illiberal and anti-liberal populists rely on an angry but shrinking demographic, these people still appear to be willing to give a pass to their leaders. Given that the more committed people are to a worldview, the harder it is to turn away from it I think that the retreat from authoritarian thinking will be long and slow.

This, however, is very true:

[I]t is clear that the anti-liberal populists don’t have long term solutions for the main problems afflicting society. In fact, beyond the headlines, their solutions involve the breaking down of democratic institutions to provide cover for crony capitalism in league with a crony state.

Populists don’t have solutions. They are adept at channeling (often legitimate) anger in order to win power but once they gain power the paucity of their programmes quickly become apparent. The speed with which many Brexiters fled the scene once the referendum was won is a reflection not only of this paucity but also the extent to which they know that they have nothing beyond a few well-chosen slogans.

I don’t share Matthew’s faith in the strength of democratic institutions — the ongoing disaster of the Trump presidency shows just how weak these institutions can be — but these can be rebuilt.

The populist tide will recede but I don’t think this is going to happen quickly or consistently across countries. Emmanuel Macron demonstrated that it is still possible to defeat the far right with liberal, optimistic and internationalist programme. We need more of this.

The Joy of Automation

I have long been a keen advocate of automating everything. As far as I am concerned, any job that can be automated should be automated — and will be automated unless someone explicitly tells me not to. It’s an attitude that has saved my sanity in more than one occasion when I’ve found myself single-handedly supporting a business critical application.

It also earned me a fair bit of leeway when my manager, thinking I was awake at 2:00am resolving issues with overnight jobs, would say nothing about my inability to drag myself out of bed.

But it never got me promoted.

I take my hat off to Serge, who was promoted for slacking off, and to Louis, who was given a pay rise for oversleeping. I really must try harder to do less.

Goals

I’m not a big believer in New Years Resolutions — if a resolution is worth making, there is no point in waiting for an arbitrary date change. And a resolution made just because the date has changed, probably isn’t worth making.

That said, there are some things that I do need to improve upon.

The first of these is my weight. Although I’ve never been much of an exercise type person, I have been relatively active for most of my life. However, over the past decade or so, this has become less true and middle-age spread has started to set in. Back in October, my partner bought me a hybrid smartwatch and I was forced to face up to just how inactive I had become. I’m not going to cut down on my eating or drinking but I have made some changes to ensure that I walk further and more frequently — and it seems to be having an effect. So I now have to keep this up — seven more kilos to go.

I also want to catch up on my embarrassingly large pile of unwatched DVDs. I have accumulated a significant number of books and DVDs over the years and, with the onset of fatherhood, have found that I have a lot less time to read and watch films. For the books, I have very nearly caught up — commuting by train helps a lot — so now I need to find time to catch up on that pile of films. For some of them, the boys are now old enough that we can watch them together; for the rest, I shall have to step away from the internet a little sooner when Fridays come around and put a film on instead.

Since I have pretty much caught up on my pile of unread books, I shall be both adding to it and attempting to read more books. In 2018, I read 26 books — I 2019 I am aiming to read 30. You can see how close I get to this by following me on Goodreads.

And finally, I want to get better at Go. This is a game I started playing back in 2017 and I’m still terrible. Go may well be the perfect abstract game — the rules are incredibly simple and anyone can learn them — but the strategies that can be employed are fiendish. I’m getting better though — I still lose a lot more games than I win, but at least I now know why I keep losing. More practice is needed, more books must be read and more people must be badgered to play and hopefully, by the end of the year, I will have improved on my utterly awful 25k ranking on OGS.

Lists like this are never comprehensive, but this one will do for now. So all that remains is for me to wish a Happy New Year to anyone who visits this site. Hopefully 2019 will be an improvement on 2018.

No-deal Brexit ferry company owns no ships and has never run Channel service

The above headline comes from The Guardian, via Liberal England and sums up the the state of the UK’s Brexit preparations.

One of the companies contracted by the government to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit does not own any ships, has not previously operated a ferry service and is not planning to do so until close to the UK’s scheduled departure date from the European Union, it has emerged.

Concerns have been raised about Seaborne Freight, which was awarded a £13.8m contract to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, after a councillor for the Kent town queried whether it would be possible to set up the new service by the scheduled Brexit date.

The government has signed three such agreements — without a tendering process — in order to ease congestion on the Dover-Calais crossing in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The thing is that the ports of Dover and Calais have, over the past forty years, become really efficient when it comes to handling large quantities of cargo. Neither Ramsgate nor Ostend will come close to making any difference to the cross-channel congestion at all.

This is probably why the government’s delusional plans are so dependent on a delusional company that has no ships and no trading history.