Monday, May 22


97 Economic Facts The Doctor Who Episode "Oxygen" Got Wrong

1. Oxygen is recyclable.  It doesn't disappear when you breathe it.
2. They're mining copper ore.  You know what a major component of many copper ores and other rocks is?  Oxygen.
3. You know what the process of refining oxide ores does?  It produces oxygen.
4. They're murdering the maintenance staff of a refinery to save money on oxygen.  Do you have any idea how expensive it is to restart a refinery after a shutdown?
5. They're rationing oxygen, but not the resources required to produce oxygen.
6. They're sending out an entire new crew of employees on an interplanetary spaceship.  The energy for orbit-to-orbit transfer alone would make the cost of maintaining oxygen for the existing crew an unnoticeable blip on the balance sheet.
7. The actions depicted are not saving money, but wasting it.  Such a company under capitalism would swiftly be outcompeted and either be sold or go bankrupt.  This sort of thing is far more likely under state capitalism or socialism than anything like laissez-faire capitalism.  (Indeed, it's endemic in socialist states.)
8. Capitalism is not a "mistake".  Capitalist theory is descriptive, unlike socialism, which is prescriptive (and normative, i.e. a fairy tale).  Capitalism is simply how people exchange goods and services when they are free to do so.  Our understanding of it might be incomplete, but it's not something that was created by mistake.  Socialism, of course, is exactly that.
9. Murdering 90% of your employees is not a good way to improve productivity, nor do we see this in capitalist economies.
10. They're mining copper ore in situ.  Why?  Just move the whole damn rock.  Might take a little longer, but what's the rush?
11. If the suits can perform the manual labour - even complex operations as we see later in the episode - then why the hell are the crew out in space in them, using oxygen?  Burning money again.
12. They're shipping out a new crew at great expense because the old crew wasn't sufficiently productive, and they expect the new crew not to notice that there's no old crew?  You don't think the ever-growing piles of corpses might have some impact on worker efficiency?
13. There's a substantial crew on an automated refinery.  The refinery is still in operation with 90% of the crew dead.  By what measure were they unproductive when there was no point of them being there in the first place?
14. If the original crew wasn't needed, what was the point of spending a fortune to send out a replacement crew?
15. A company that routinely murders its employees will not tend to have the first pick in hiring new ones.  In fact, unless they're a protected monopoly, no-one would work for them at all.  What is illustrated is not only not a problem of capitalism, it's something that capitalism corrects.
16. That crew vessel is going back anyway.  You seriously have no way of extracting value from the old crew who are already trained and experienced workers?  Again, in a capitalist economy, you're headed for the corporate scrapheap.
17. If a resource is valuable, a capitalist economy doesn't destroy new supplies of that resource; instead it seeks to recover that value.  A cartel would seek to control the supply.  When you do see that sort of destruction, you find a state behind it, and most often a socialist one.
18. Oxygen is not actually scarce in space, not if you're in a planetary system.  Breathable oxygen, yes; oxygen itself, no.  You just need a power source to break it out of whatever incovenient molecule it's formed - H2O, SiO2, CO2, Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2, whatever.  They have a nuclear reactor.
19. The society we see has access to artificial gravity.  This is so far beyond any technology we have today that their worries about oxygen are like us fretting that our neighbours might sneak in while we're at work and steal the secret of fire.

This wouldn't matter if the story had been intended as a cautionary tale of what happens when a corporation goes bad.  But it's meant to be an indictment of capitalism, and as that it's pure idiocy.

Since the characters who die are killed in service of this moronic socialist rant, the dialog and characterisation goes by the wayside, and we don't care about any of them, making it a bad story even apart from the idiot moral attached to it.

I'm reminded of a (true) story about the computer systems of the Indian Railways.  They don't have enough capacity to serve all the people that want to travel, and their online ticket system would crash every week when tickets for the next week went on sale due to the sheer volume of people trying to buy.

So they spent a great deal of time and money engineering a very elaborate new system with high-volume intermediate databases and ingenious caching and queuing mechanisms to make sure that ticket sales were both robust and scrupulously fair.

Instead of, y'know, raising the price.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:20 PM | Comments (32) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 That rabid anti-free-market nonsense really detracted from the episode.  An obvious reason not to kill the staff:  the insurance payouts and/or jail sentences company execs will have to dole out and/or serve.

Posted by: Rick C at Tuesday, May 23 2017 07:57 AM (ECH2/)

2 Yes.  It's not that companies don't do bad shit sometimes.  If they'd had any plausible rationale, I would have been fine with the episode.  Giving no reason at all for the company acting like a bunch of maniacs would have been better than what we actually had.
Plus, of course, zombie spacesuits have been done before, and done better.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Tuesday, May 23 2017 10:29 AM (PiXy!)

3 "no reason at all for the company acting like a bunch of maniacs"
Well, they're capitalists, isn't that enough? It certainly is for the writers!

Posted by: Rick C at Tuesday, May 23 2017 11:43 PM (ECH2/)

4 This sounds like a Vault-Tec / Weyland Yutani joint venture. 
So...How many tiny blue police box targets would this rate?

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Wednesday, May 24 2017 03:07 AM (KicmI)

5 Don't forget that when the Tardis filled the station with free air, the system didn't collect it for resale; it was deliberately programmed to throw it all away. (and why didn't the Tardis just make more? or generate the usual force-field bubble of atmosphere, which couldn't have been blown out an airlock?)

The stupidity goes fractal when you think about the whole "distance calibrated in breaths" nonsense. Hugo-winning hard-sf concept, right there!


Posted by: J Greely at Wednesday, May 24 2017 11:45 AM (JkjJR)

6 Yeah, I was going to mention the distance measured in breaths thing.  Glrrrrgh.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, May 24 2017 12:37 PM (PiXy!)

7 Come to think of it, why does the station have airlocks at all? If the staff are living in their suits 24/7 (sleeping standing up, recycling their wastes into food, whatever), why is the station air-tight to begin with? And why is there a convenient place to get into and out of suits, if there's no air to breathe? And.. and... and... (fractally stupid).


Posted by: J Greely at Wednesday, May 24 2017 02:17 PM (tgyIO)

8 Yep.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, May 24 2017 02:40 PM (PiXy!)

9 Well, what if the suit breaks, like Bill's?
Perhaps the airlocks are so that when corporate overlords show up, they don't have to wear suits.

Posted by: Rick C at Thursday, May 25 2017 02:11 AM (ECH2/)

10 I just thought of a way to fix everything: change the Doctor's here's-the-moral line to "six months later there was a revolution, and that was the end of Chavismo".


Posted by: J Greely at Thursday, May 25 2017 02:27 AM (tgyIO)

11 I bet half the BBC believe in Chavismo, though, so they'd never write that line.
It'd be good, though.

Posted by: Rick C at Thursday, May 25 2017 09:25 AM (ITnFO)

12 Or have it be the computer exceeding its programming, like Smile.  Or offer any plausible reason for the company to want its employees out of the way, like the Weyland-Yutani scenario.

There's probably a hundred ways to make the episode work, but the writer was too stupid - too instilled in leftist groupthink - to even notice the problem.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Thursday, May 25 2017 01:36 PM (PiXy!)

13 ...and not just the writer. How do you get the entire staff, cast, and crew of a long-running SF serial to not notice any of this, unless they're all drinking the kool-aid?

Its quite depressing to read the many online reviews that think this episode was good, for exactly the reasons it's not. IGN's was particularly cringeworthy; they chugged the kool-aid.


Posted by: J Greely at Thursday, May 25 2017 02:20 PM (tgyIO)

14 RTD was notable for rewriting scripts; Moffat has been notable for not rewriting them.  Apparently the only change he made to the script for Oxygen was to leave the Doctor blind at the end so he could use it in Extremis.

Most people don't have the understanding of capitalism needed to spot the difference between a company behaving badly (which happens, of course) and blaming that on capitalism itself, the only economic system we have that actually works.  Or the understanding of history to see how pernicious that kind of thing is.

At least there are people out there who do understand that; a few of them showed up in IGN's comments, though I felt kind of lonely at Ars Technica making the same points.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Thursday, May 25 2017 05:21 PM (PiXy!)

15 Oh man, you went into the comments on Arse Technica?  My condolences.
How many gratuituous/OT Trump-bashing comments were there?

Posted by: Rick C at Friday, May 26 2017 12:01 AM (ECH2/)

16 Not that many in this particular thread.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Friday, May 26 2017 03:20 AM (PiXy!)

17 More than one, then, eh?
The comments there are a straight-up sewer ever since he became the nominee.  I'm not sure I've seen a post that doesn't have some wildly-off-topic rant about him.

Posted by: Rick C at Friday, May 26 2017 09:40 AM (ITnFO)

18 They continued with some idiocy in Pyramid. Unless I mis-saw a crucial moment, the Monk's success rode on , something that is the very definition of !

Posted by: Rick C at Wednesday, May 31 2017 03:48 AM (ECH2/)

19 I couldn't decide which was worse, the acting or the lab policies.


Posted by: J Greely at Wednesday, May 31 2017 09:54 AM (tgyIO)

20 In my admittedly-limited experience, bad acting is <i>de rigueur</i> for British TV, and this didn't get beyond background noise.

Posted by: Rick C at Wednesday, May 31 2017 10:56 AM (ITnFO)

21 I can imagine a lab with an "airlock" that doesn't actually interlock, though.  It would be an accident waiting to happen, but that's just what the monks were looking for.  Disasters like that do happen, though they usually don't wipe out all life on the planet.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, May 31 2017 11:26 AM (PiXy!)

22 Rick, I found all of the "spear carriers with power" to be completely unbelievable in their roles, especially the American; I'm sure poor writing and directing contributed to their failure, but I thought they were all worse than a typical one-shot Who actor.


Posted by: J Greely at Wednesday, May 31 2017 12:06 PM (tgyIO)

23 I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that nobody testing wildly dangerous chemicals is going to not use a real airlock, because one oops and the C-levels are going to be in jail, assuming they survive.  Hell, previous Doctor Who episodes had real ones.  This is "the writers had the idiot ball" and nothing else--that plot point is completely uncredible.
The soldier stuff was plain old dumb, too, but that's utterly unremarkable for modern-day Doctor Who, which has always had nothing but contempt for guns and the military.  (The original show was only better by not being outright pants-on-head stupid.)

Posted by: Rick C at Wednesday, May 31 2017 12:56 PM (ITnFO)

24 Remember when the BBC, kept is insanity to molesting kids in private, instead of infecting everything they broadcast with a Left-wing morality tail?

Posted by: The Political Hat at Monday, June 05 2017 04:01 AM (vBeA5)

25 On the subject of the BBC infecting with a left-wing morality tail, has anyone been watching the Doctor Who spinoff Class that come after it? It goes all in for the "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" leftist trope. One character (Miss Quill) is bound to another (the Prince) as punishment for what he calls terrorism, but she always literally calls herself a freedom fighter. She's portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic anti-hero. I wonder if that will play after Manchester and London.

Posted by: muon at Tuesday, June 06 2017 06:51 PM (vMYTH)

26 I watched the first five episodes, then set it aside.  Really didn't like it.  Looks like it may have been dropped by the BBC after just eight episodes.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Sunday, June 11 2017 07:57 PM (PiXy!)

27 I see the Doctor got new space suits.  I guess they're slightly less goofy than the set they've been using since at least Tennant's time.  But it's the BBC, so I'm going to assume they had to make these up more or less at the last moment because someone threw the old ones out or something.  This theory has the advantage that this is something they used to actually do.

Posted by: Rick C at Monday, June 12 2017 02:42 PM (ITnFO)

28 Class had its season finale last week, so it looks like it was planned for an initial run of eight eps. The head writer has been assigned elsewhere, so a second season is doubtful, but one of his ideas for it was a Weeping Angel civil war.

Posted by: muon at Monday, June 12 2017 04:31 PM (vMYTH)

29 Didn't Class run in England last year?  I also had thought it was planned for more like 12-13 episodes.

Posted by: Rick C at Monday, June 12 2017 10:54 PM (ITnFO)

30 Yep, I watched it last year because there was no Doctor Who.  Don't know how many episodes were planned, though.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Monday, June 12 2017 11:15 PM (PiXy!)

31 On the other side of the spectrum, there's the anti-tax The Sunmakers, a satire of writer Robert Holmes's experiences with the Inland Revenue. A small government believer is a socialist who's been audited.

Posted by: muon at Wednesday, June 14 2017 04:53 PM (vMYTH)

32 The new show is in many ways very different from the old one.

Posted by: Rick C at Thursday, June 15 2017 01:39 AM (ECH2/)

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Apple pies are delicious. But never mind apple pies. What colour is a green orange?

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