April 2005

26 April 2005
How to ruin Doctor Who

Natalie Solent’s getting all steamed up about Doctor Who over at Biased BBC.  Personally, I’m not all that bothered.  Doctor Who has always been profoundly political.  The Daleks are the Nazis.  Davros is Hitler.  The Sun Makers (a Tom Baker-era story) was all about sky-high taxes.  The Sea Devils is all about the Ulster Troubles.  It is one of the great strengths of science fiction that it is much easier to discuss political issues than it is with straight drama.  That an episode might try to make an (apparently) left-wing point should come as no surprise.  You can’t expect it to go all your own way.

But having said that, Doctor Who is beginning to bother me.  I thought the opening episode (and I said so at the time) was a triumph.  But with each successive episode I have become less and less enthusiastic.  I am becoming ever more convinced that I was right first time: this is going to be a disaster.

I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on why (and still haven’t) but I feel that Joe Newbery’s “How to ruin Doctor Who”, an essay I recently came across, comes very close to it. Newbery’s basic point is that the Doctor is an Enlightenment hero.  His dominant characteristic is his rationality.  Not for nothing did Richard E Grant describe Doctor Who as “Sherlock Holmes in space”.

Just as an aside isn’t it interesting how almost all the great fictional detectives: Holmes, Poirot, Marple, Fletcher, Morse are single?  I don’t think it’s coincidence.

Now, the leap that the author makes is to list all the ways eg. make him more human, give him a love life, make it action-orientated, have him dressed in normal clothes, to make the Doctor less rational and therefore ruin the show.  I think I’m with him here though I am not quite sure why.  Suffice to say the new producers have done most of these things and are ruining the show.

The more I think about it the more I think the destruction of Gallifrey is hugely significant.  It was not just any old plot device but something far more malicious sending out the message that the old Doctor Who is dead and it’s never coming back.

The odd thing is that I can’t work out what possessed them to do this.  I believe it’s a political act but why should the left be so opposed to reason?  I thought they were all in favour of it.

Of course, it might be commercial.  But by destroying Doctor Who’s roots, they will lose the hardcore fans and I don’t see the new programme being distinctive enough to generate the audience they need to justify the enormous budget.

Anyway, I’ll cling on but I’m beginning to lose hope.

Update Natalie has even more thoughts.

Andy Wood has some more thoughts on low turnouts - he reckons they make coups more likely and has some interesting stats …link
24 April 2005
State schools are crap - and so are the unions …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Jörg says:

I think the English (as well as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish) have a lot to be proud about. I’m German and I’ll be eternally grateful for the Allied Forces ridding us of Hitler and his henchmen. In actual fact Sir Winston Churchill is my greatest hero. If it hadn’t been for Hitler we probably wouldn’t have been in the politically correct mess we are today. Maybe we’d all be communists though, you never know. I just wanted to say thanks to all the servicemen and -women from the UK, the US and the rest of the Western World who risked and often lost their lives in the spirit of freedom. Maybe I should stick my cross of St. George (which I’ve got for footballing purposes) to the window. Rule Britannia!

Seen in a comment to this piece on St George and the BBC dragon.

Mark Ellott has lots to say on Railtrack - interesting, not least, because he was there at the time. Warning, it's makes depressing reading …link
Low turnout and why it’s not a problem

This evening, while with some of my libertarian friends the conversation turned to the upcoming general election and the expected low turnout. 

This is an issue that seems to vex all sorts of people but it occurs to me that maybe it shouldn’t.  Maybe what we are in fact seeing is the triumph of market research.  In their efforts to garner as many votes as possible the parties have spent a lot of money on polling, focus groups and other forms of market research.  Consequently, they have ended up with remarkably similar agendas.  Choosing between them is a bit like choosing between Daz and Ariel and about as important.  So, for most people it doesn’t much matter whether they vote or not.

So, they don’t.

It also occurs to me that what we have seen in recent years is the separation of the business of politics from the business of opinion forming.  Not that long ago politicians believed they could shape the debate.  Churchill, Thatcher, Powell, Benn all fell into that category.  Try finding a politician who thinks that nowadays.  They just don’t exist.

23 April 2005
“...privation for a purpose brings its own content” - Theodore Dalrymple on why people enjoyed WWII. Really? (via Notts Blog) …link
NTS thinks about resigning from the 1952 Committee - but still can't bring himself to vote Conservative …link
20 April 2005
It’s not an incident - it's suicide, for once …link
Let’s hope they invent immortality soon - because we're only two popes away from Armageddon …link


We could do worse than try the strategy for racial harmony that has worked comparatively well for Britain before, and has worked in other countries too. Strict equality before the law


Guido describes the Powderject Scandal - and I find myself wondering why the press doesn't make more of it than they do …link
19 April 2005
Lots of bankruptcy is a good thing - in a new industry. Shows that people are trying out new ideas …link
Hope amid despair

EU Serf:

Whilst the future does indeed look grim and the chains around our ankles will get heavier, we have no other choice. Unless we are willing to fight for a future where we can be free to live our own lives, then we can be certain that it will never happen.

Our soapboxes may be tucked in the corners of the internet and our audiences may be small, we may be preaching to the converted, but we have no other choice.

Surrender is not an option.

Which rather put me in mind of Field Marshal Haig: “With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.”

Or, in rather less apocalyptic terms: “Keep on keeping on”.

Why do rockers keep their hair? - And is it anything to do with the hours they keep? …link

It’s a while since we last had a decent inter-blog war so it’s good to see Laban and the Bunny going at it hammer and tongs over Rover.

Do rodents eat daffodills?  Let’s hope so.

Not that I’m taking sides or anything.

18 April 2005
Vote Labour - or the lights go out …link
Doctor shortages - another NHS triumph …link
Top tips for getting smarter - by a) avoiding state schools and b) turning off the central heating
15 April 2005
At least one member of the MSM gets the internet - and it's Rupert Murdoch …link
End MRSA - privatise the NHS says James Bartholomew. Keep the politicos out says Brent and Chase Farm Hospital

Wise words on speed cameras:

Contrary to the slogans, speed does not kill…What kills is bad driving

Mark Ellott

Get a tattoo - become a criminal (via Harry Hutton of all people) …link
New Rover badge?

From Mr Free Market.

14 April 2005
London’s ‘zero emission’ buses - aren't. Water vapour, see, is a greenhouse gas …link
“The EU could disintegrate toward a free-trade zone,” - oh no …link
“...themeless pudding…” - the anonymous commentator reads the manifestoes …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Andy Wood on voting:

Last time I voted Conservative because I wanted to shock my friends. (It worked too - one friend was so shocked he assaulted me.)

Some friend.

09 April 2005
Baby Names - Find out how popular your name has been at various points in the past century, er, in the US. (via CS&W)  …link
The Pope and AIDS - it just won't go away. Laban has the best round-up but also check out Pollard and the Tim Worstall's comments. Seems there just aren't enough Catholics to make much difference …link
War is sensible - so long as you lose to the right people ie America …link
Postal Order: or should posts be displayed chronologically or not?

Natalie Solent is a difficult woman.  You try to please her with long articles on defunct railway companies and all that happens is that she uses it as an excuse to get even more irate.

If I command him to put the newest posts at the top like every other bleedin’ blog in the world are you listening boyo, will he obey?


Yes, this is one of my little eccentricities.  At the time of writing my home page and RSS feeds are in reverse chronological order - just like every other bleedin’ blog in the world (except yours Natalie because yours doesn’t have a feed when are you going to get that sorted out - it’s only a couple of clicks you know).  But my archives and category pages are in chronological order.

Now there’s a reason for this.  Most things in this world (diaries, logs, chronicles etc) are written in chronological order.  Which makes sense.  You start at the beginning and work forwards.  Blogs (or at least their home pages) on the other hand are in reverse chronological order. You start at the end and work backwards.  This rather bizarre way of displaying information is forced on bloggers by the need to advertise to readers that there is something new.  If new items were put at the end no one would ever know about it because no one would ever be bothered to scroll to the end on the off chance that there was something there.

Now, I think that’s absolutely fine and dandy and until the next revolution in web technology I am quite happy for that to apply to my home page.  But why should it apply to my date or category archives?  No reason that I can see which is why they are in chronological order.

The only reason that Natalie ever found out about this is because I sent her a permalink.  My permalinks link to the date archive and not to the individual page.  I did that so that when people linked to me they would be able to easily see other things I had written.  Well, you never know…

But Natalie finds chronologically-ordered blog posts confusing.  She’s not alone.  So, as it happens, do I.  Many has been the time I have been poring over my own archives getting ever more confused only to suddenly realise what order they’re in.

I draw two things from all of this.  The first is that blog readers have no real problem with reading things in the wrong order.  For them it is far worse if things are in the right order.  The second is (and I’ve said this before) that blogs need to look like blogs even if this means incorporating seemingly illogical but widely-used features.

08 April 2005
Don’t want AIDS? - then listen to the Pope, says Squander Two …link
Wikipedia - good for facts, bad for opinion …link
Croziervision quote of the day

Johnathan Pearce:

The government, having created a system ripe for fraud and abuse, has one of its former members suggest that it be dealt with [by] creating a system ripe for fraud and abuse.

on postal voting and ID cards.

Don’t mourn Railtrack

She who must be obeyed aka Natalie Solent has been badgering me for a couple of days to say something about the snuffing out of Railtrack (the former rail infrastructure company) seeing as the whole issue has once again re-emerged - this time courtesy of the ASI Blog.

Natalie, your wish is my command.

But I will say this: I am not enjoying it.  When writing about Railtrack I feel rather like Lord Palmerston on the Schleswig-Holstein issue who said something like:  “There are only three people in Europe who understand it.  Of those, one is dead, one has gone mad and the other has forgotten it.” 

To be blunt the whole history of rail “privatisation” is so fiendishly complicated and compromised that to discuss the death of Railtrack in isolation is close to pointless.

To my mind, the question that really matters is: is Railtrack an institution that free marketeers should seek to defend?  Was it our baby?  Should we take responsibility?  My answer is no.

Let me explain.  I am a libertarian.  I believe in freedom.  I want to see as little coercion in this world as possible.  I want that principle applied to individuals and their property and to businesses and their property.

To that extent I believe that a business should be able to decide who it sells to, how much it sells and at what price.  I believe the same freedoms should apply when it comes to buying from suppliers I believe it should be able acquire businesses in the same industry and (should the fancy take it) completely different industries.

But Railtrack couldn’t do any of these things.  It was the state via the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (and later the Strategic Rail Authority) who decided which train operators would use Railtrack’s infrastructure.  It was the state via the Office of the Rail Regulator who decided how much it would sell and at what price.  It was the state, via the 1993 Railway Act that prevented Railtrack from buying up the train operating companies.  It was the state (if memory serves) which foisted on Railtrack its maintenance contractors and the state again (again if memory serves) that signed it up to a commitment to rebuilding the West Coast Mainline - a project whose costs shot up from £2bn originally to nearer £10bn in the end. 

Now, contrast that with the private Japanese rail company JR East.  To the best of my knowledge JR East could contract out the running of its trains but doesn’t.  It could contract out the maintenance of its tracks but doesn’t.  It is under no contractual obligation to build or renew railways.  Result?  Profit and punctuality, comfort and reliability.

The only real problem is with overcrowding which is the direct consequence of state-enforced fare control.

Free marketeers have to be careful not to fall into the trap of demanding perfection from market institutions.  All enterprises are to some extent or other buggered up by the state.  Even JR East is subject to far more regulation than the average newsagent.  But Railtrack had so little freedom that (in my book) it wasn’t part of the market at all.

07 April 2005
America is not a new nation - says Tyler Cowen …link
“Conservative my arse” - Squander Two ponders his voting options …link
Gun control is racist - (via Laban Tall) …link
06 April 2005
Canned Rover? - Tim Worstall thinks the Chinese are playing a rather clever game …link
The Party Political Webcast

Saw a webcast by the English Progressive and Liberty Party (no, I don’t know who they are either) here, via the Englishman’s Castle.  Interesting not so much for its content but for the suggestion that anyone can make political television and they no longer have to crawl to the TV stations to do it.

Hey, even I could do it.  I could have a whole channel all to myself.  All I need is a name.

“[W]hen I was a teenager, the only kids having anal intercourse were the ones who missed” - but virginity pledges are changing all that (via the Hole - where else?) …link
Wanna get away with murder? - join Europol …link
Dubai: the Las Vegas of Arabia - says William G Ridgeway …link
Poverty, so bad they had to redefine it - The Bunny on Labour's academo-political complex …link
05 April 2005
Hales v Flanagan - S&M has the root causes. Oh yeah and there's something about Labour's managerialism. Whatever …link
Good for him - Squander Two praises Prince Charles for slagging off the press …link

More democracy blogging.  Randall McElroy asks:

Can you name a democratically-ruled country where the government and its bureaucracies, dependents, employees, contractors, and powers have been in decline for any significant amount of time?

I can’t.  Margaret Thatcher gave up power in some areas but increased it in others.  Mind you I find it difficult to think of any regime democratic or otherwise where the state has shrunk.  When people recapture their freedoms it seems to require either the collapse of a regime eg. the Soviet Union or invasion eg. Germany.

If that’s the case, the implications for us in the West are not good.

Canada’s Adscam scandal

This looks like being big stuff for all sorts of reasons.  Original post here.  Michelle Malkin’s round-up (she seems to be making a reputation for this sort of thing) here.

Via Instapundit (he says breaking his own rule).

04 April 2005
Another poll says “non” - that's six in a row …link
The creed of secular atheistic liberalism - The Ombre has a go at defining it while having a go at the BBC. Not dissimilar to my "NuLab ideology" IMHO …link
Croziervision quote of the day

It’s a good rule of thumb that anything 59 economists, bureaucrats or diplomats are prepared to sign an open letter objecting to is by definition a good thing.

Mark Steyn on the Bolton nomination.  Britons of a certain age will remember a similar round robin signed by 365 economists condemning Margaret Thatcher’s reforms.

Freedomandemocracy make the world a safer place - says Natan Sharansky (via A&L Daily) …link
Drunk with power - Mark Holland on the government's latest anti-drunkeness measure. Whatever, happened to banging 'em up, I wonder …link
Was the Pope really that great?

I know this probably isn’t the time and that I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this (as I have before) but am I the only person alive who thinks the Pope wasn’t that great?  I am not saying he was that bad - certainly not - he appears to have believed in God which in my view is a good thing for senior clergy to believe in - but I really can’t go along with all this tosh about him bringing down the Soviet Empire (see here and here).

I find myself asking the question: what did he actually do?  OK, so Popes don’t actually do that much at all, but they say a lot.  So, what did he say?  Well, I was 12 when he was elected and throughout the period of his papacy I’ve been a pretty keen student of current affairs and to tell you the truth I can’t remember a single thing he ever said apart from some perfectly decent words about sufferers from Downs Syndrome. 

Maybe I’d missed something and being a protestant atheist that’s not entirely impossible. So, while channel-surfing earlier today I was interested to stumble on a BBC biog.  Maybe, they’d have something.  Well, they certainly made the same old claim but there was precious little evidence to back it up.  Oh, something about “renewing this land [ie Poland]” but not much. 

“Mr Gorbachev, tear down these walls…”  it was not.

03 April 2005
“At Australian wineries it is possible to buy port in ten litre containers.” -  …link
Nothing is as permanent as a temporary government programme - Alex Singleton condemns MG Rover's bridging loan …link
02 April 2005
Jane Fonda doesn’t actually apologise for going to Hanoi…

...but the real star of this report is the writer, one Francis Harris, for:

As is traditional in the United States, the confessional interview is part of the pre-publicity for a book, in this case Fonda’s new autobiography, Jane Fonda: My Life So Far.


The television owner Ted Turner telephoned her the day news of her divorce from Hayden became public. They married, but he later found God and left her.


British schools have shit meals because they’re provided by the government - Blithering Bunny who incidentally now has an RSS feed. Hooray! …link
Quote of the Day

It is not from the benevolence of the programmer, the graphic artist, or the sys admin, that we can expect our web pages, but from their regard to their own interest.

Certainly not the sys admin.  Mark Holland updates Adam Smith.

01 April 2005
Turning the clock back (and forth) - Peter Gordon has a brief history of "horologic schizophrenia" …link
Jacques Chirac, Croix de la Valeur Militaire - but for what? …link
96% of internet users have never read a blog - Richard North has some reflections …link
Predator democracies - S J Masty on the democracy's downside on the Indian sub-continent …link
Does natural wealth hamper democracy? - asks Tim "under-nourished ego" Worstall …link