Saturday, August 27, 2005

Continental gas

Christian Science Monitor | Gas prices too high? Try Europe.
$7 a gallon? That's what drivers in Amsterdam pay. But Europeans have long adapted to high prices.
So the Monitor leads us into another examination of the superiority of European fuel policies. Real men pay more for gas. But buried down in paragraphs fourteen to sixteen is the real reason.
"The single most effective measure" that has brought down motorists' fuel use in Europe, however, is taxation, says Dings [Jos Dings, head of Transport and Energy, a coalition of European environmental NGOs].

On average, 60 percent of the price European drivers pay at the pump goes to their governments in taxes.

In Britain, the government takes 75 percent, and raises taxes by 5 percent above inflation every year (though it has forgone this year's rise in view of rocketing oil prices, and the French government has promised tax rebates this year to taxi drivers, truckers, fishermen, and others who depend heavily on gasoline.) On August 8, for example, the price of gas in the US, without taxes, would be $2.17, instead of $2.56; in Britain, it would be $1.97, instead of $6.06.
So. European gasoline prices would actually be lower than American prices, if not for confiscatory tax rates, which they have somehow convinced themselves are a good thing. The Monitor appears to agree, since they've backed into the numbers by saying that "60 percent of the price goes to their governments in taxes." Whereas, if one were approaching this from the perspective of the base price of the gas, one would have to say that the actual tax rate is 150%-200%.
"The biggest hole in our policy today is fuel taxation," [...says Lee Schipper, head of transportation research at the Washington-based World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank]. "Tax increases are something Americans should do but don't know how to do, and I wonder if they will ever be able to."

What planet are you from?

America has a history of resentment toward purely punitive tax, dating back at least to that unfortunate incident in Boston with all that tea.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Never mind the writer

I can only assume that Rupert Holmes, the author of Where the Truth Lies, is not involved in the film adaptation of his book, since he's not mentioned in this story about the film's troubles achieving an R rating.
Globe and Mail | Is the naked Truth too hot for censors?
Toronto — An explicit sex scene involving two men and a woman in Canadian director Atom Egoyan's latest movie is expected to earn the film a prohibitive rating in the U.S. that, if sustained, will "severely limit" its box office there, Mr. Egoyan predicted yesterday.

The Classification and Ratings Administration of the powerful Motion Picture Association of America plans to reveal its official rating of Mr. Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies no later than tomorrow. But given what Mr. Egoyan calls "the very conservative climate in America," he and the film's North American distributor, Toronto-based ThinkFilm Inc., "strongly suspect" it will be rated NC-17. This means no one 17 years of age or under in the U.S. will be allowed admission, even if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

While Where the Truth Lies has some tough violence, nudity, lesbian encounters and drug-taking, it is a sex scene involving stars Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon and the film's female lead, 29-year-old Rachel Blanchard, that seems to be giving U.S. adjudicators trouble -- something U.S. observers told Mr. Egoyan he might expect after the movie's world premiere in May at the Cannes film festival.

"I guess I'm naive; I really had no idea it would be a problem," the director said at that time.
It only takes one verifiable factual error to throw an article into question. Or shall I assume that the error I caught is the only one? Perhaps the reporter was so caught up in artistic issues that he failed to fact-check something as relatively trivial as who the female lead actually is. Having read the book, I can assure you that if the movie resembles the book (can't take that for granted, I realize), Blanchard's character [as listed at IMDB] isn't the lead. (I suppose I'm not giving too much away to call her the "Laura Palmer" of the story.)

We can dismiss the director's blithe claim of naivete--or, rather, we could if there were a Major Motion Picture Studio involved. None of the majors would entrust that much money to a director who has so little understanding of the American market.

Assuming he does understand the market, he's probably using notoriety to get a little free publicity for a film that otherwise would run unnoticed in the local art house.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Didn't see that coming

Times of London | Psychic's crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze
IF HERVE VANDROT, a French amateur psychic, took out a warranty on his crystal ball, he may soon be claiming on it. Instead of predicting that his flat would catch fire, the fortune-telling device was the cause of the blaze.

M Vandrot, 24, who is studying botanics at Edinburgh University, left the ball on his windowsill while he visited the city’s Royal Botanic Garden. By the time he returned, the ball had destroyed his own and two other flats, and had left several others uninhabitable.

... M Vandrot, released from hospital after a night having his hand treated, denied that his crystal ball had been the cause of the blaze. "I don’t think it is capable of doing that. I think it was an electrical fault; the plug of my computer was melted."

Edinburgh’s firefighters disagreed, and roundly blamed the ball. "Strong sunlight through glass, particularly if the glass is filled with liquid like a goldfish bowl, concentrates the sun’s rays and acts like a magnifying glass," a spokesman said. The fire had been started by the ball concentrating a ray of sunshine on a pile of washing, he said.

One of M Vandrot’s friends, who was helping him to sift through the debris yesterday, said: "I don’t think it was the crystal ball. I have had crystal balls on my windowsills for years and nothing happened."
Yeah, and if the window faces north, probably nothing will, as direct sunlight will never come from that direction in the northern hemisphere.

I feel like I have a good acquaintance with middle-to-high-school-level science. A crystal ball looks like a great big lens to me. Isn't it?

Monday, August 01, 2005

In a world...

The only thing really wrong with this video is that one giant of the voice-over industry, Gary Owens, isn't in it. But it does give you an opportunity to place names, and faces, to five voices you know well.

(I got it from Mark Evanier.)