Toto, I've Got a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Nope, not The Wizard of Oz. One of the characters in The Cat Returns is a crow named Toto, but he helps out Haru (not Dorothy) when she is kidnapped to the Cat Kingdom (rather than, er, Oz). Yep, this is a kid’s film. It’s entertaining and well-executed, as one would expect from another film from the Studio Ghibli production team, and light-hearted too, but there’s nothing deep, nothing glittering, and nothing rich like one might get from a Hayao Miyazaki film (such as Howl’s Moving Castle, which I wrote about the other day). A good film, but not one with a soul.

Howl's Moving Castle

To see animation at its very peak, you need to see Japanese anime. Howl’s Moving Castle is another excellent slice of this from director Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki’s film is superbly executed in almost every way. The animation is mouth-wateringly rich and silky, supplemented by camera moves made possible in the age of CGI. It’s clear that he is using this technology to not only match what’s possible in live action, but move beyond it. The art is typically Japanese - beautiful and detailed. The moving castle itself seems to be a bewildering mix of 2D and 3D - an almost living object on screen. It has to be seen to be believed - and some scenes have elements of almost photographic realism. The sound, including the foley, is competent and matches the visuals well.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a cute film, but in a typically Eastern way. Although kids would probably love it, it has the emotional depth required to be an adult film, and none of the anthropomorphised characters are the clichés one might find in a Disney film (incidentally, this is not to knock Disney, as they have done some excellent work, such as Beauty and the Beast - they also released the English-language version of this film). The characters interact in a fantasy world, one that mixes elements of the old, the new, and the outside-our-timestream. No-one plays the role you expect but it still all makes sense. The story drips feeds bizarre twists, but nothing to make one uncomfortable.

The only slight disappointment was the English language dub. Normally I avoid these anyway, but the big-name stars sounded like an attraction (plus Miyazaki himself has suggested that English speakers should watch in English). Sadly, the acting was a bit wooden, and I quickly switched to the Japanese language track. This suits the character of anime better in my opinion anyway, so I didn’t really mind.

A worthy follow-up to Spirited Away - perhaps not a masterpiece in the same way, as it lacks some of the character depth and meaning of its predecessor - but certainly an excellent piece of entertainment.

Why Developed Countries are Heading for Increasing Inequality and Centrists Might Not be as Balanced as They Think

From time to time I listen to RadioEconomics. It’s not quite as interesting to me as EconTalk, partly because it doesn’t have the same focus on liberty, but an interesting discussion the other day with Dr. Diane Coyle from Manchester University brought me to two conclusions:

  1. Developed countries will suffer from increasing inequality if the current trend of outsourcing increases. Creative ‘knowledge’ work is becoming the province of a large proportion of the population in places such as the US and the UK. However, there are still fundamental limitations on transport and technology that mean that labour-intensive jobs, from train driving to fruit stacking in Tesco, aren’t going away any time soon. A gap in the middle will begin to form, where the medium-skill jobs once were, that are now being increasingly fulfilled by folks in India and other places. This is probably inevitable. Maybe this seems like an obvious point to some people, but I think it is crucially important to keep this in mind to evaluate the promises of those who would like to be in the position to form public policy (in short, election candidates). Whether income inequality is a problem is a question for another time.

  2. Dr. Coyle asserted that she was a centrist, and was suspicious of those with ‘extreme’ political views (I suspect that by her definition, that includes me). This was because, apparently, we tend to ignore evidence that disagrees with our views. I would agree with her that it is human nature to do this (as I’ve briefly discussed before). I’m not convinced that being centrist and moderate means that one is immune to such problems, though, and it brings a host of problems itself (in particular, the danger of compromising on important points). However, there is a more fundamental problem - many ‘extreme’ people, like libertarians such as myself, hold our views for moral reasons, not just practical ones. I, like other libertarians, believe that taxes are essentially theft. For myself, this normally overrides practical concerns such as whether they are spent well and have the desired effect (although, for the record, I also believe taxes and large government suffer from practical problems too). Some people don’t believe morality should override practicality in this way, but this is an arbitrary judgement, and in some way is also a manifestation of one’s moral beliefs. Dr. Coyle didn’t seem to acknowledge this fact.

The Consequences of Travel Delay

A train I was on from Winchester to London yesterday was delayed because of faulty doors on another train. In fact, at one point, we actually managed to go backwards for a few miles to get to usable track. Despite sitting stationary for 15 minutes whilst the signalmen dithered and ending up almost half an hour late, South West Trains didn’t mention provide any reparations for passengers on the train. By contrast, my experiments in travelling by coach recently (primarily on National Express) have been very promising; they are cheaper than the train and surprisingly reliable for road-based transport. I shall consider them more seriously in the future as an alternative to the train (I don’t normally drive).

This raises an interesting question; as I understand it, most public transport operators explicitly void any claims for consequential loss as a result of delays, typically in the terms & conditions involved in buying a ticket (although, for example, if you’re taking an air journey in the EU, you are entitled to compensation in some limited circumstances by EU mandate). In other words, if I’m late for a job interview, I can’t sue my train company for possible lost wages, only the ticket price. This is probably because it would increase the price of the ticket substantially if they needed to insure against this. However, sometimes this might be useful - if I miss the play I’m going to at the theatre, all I really need is another train ticket and another theatre ticket for the following night to make it up. If I paid a bit more for my ticket, is this something the train company, airline, or suchlike could provide, at least within certain limits? Could this be an added-value service for 1st class passengers? Or is it a market already well-covered by travel insurance? I’d like to see this service offered, anyway - I for one would buy it on occasion.

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