books culture

What I’m reading: Liberties the journal

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I believe that challenging reading is good for you. If you think the same then Liberties might be up your alley. Decidedly highbrow, the quarterly is filled with essays, literary and film criticism, history, and even poetry from a Nobel Laureate. It bills itself as a new journal of Culture and Politics. Clocking in at 417 pages you might think it impossible to get through but thankfully that isn’t the case. 

As a physical object it is impressive. It looks and feels serious but approachable. It is physically smaller than I anticipated and I think that is why the length is so long. With top notch book design the journal itself gets out of your way and allows you to concentrate on the subject matter.

Because these are unrelated essays you can comfortably read it in fits and starts. I found myself reading between a half and one full essay on the nights I was in the mood for it. It really didn’t take me very long to get through the entire thing. 

So what’s it about? The last essay (and one of the few available online) outlines the point of the enterprise. I wish it was at the beginning in order to set the stage but I think it was a good editorial decision to put it last. It is dense and difficult to excerpt but I think the crux is this:

This journal begins its life in a time of breakdown and bewilderment, of arousal and expectancy. It is called Liberties because of all the splendid echoes of the word – liberty, liberal, liberate, liberality, even libertarian, even libertine. (The question of the place of pleasure in human life is one of the fundamental questions.) It is both a grave word and a joyous word. The plural is a tribute to the plurality of freedoms that we enjoy as a matter of right, and also to the plurality of freedoms that the citizens of a growing number of countries are being ruthlessly denied. Above all, it is meant to announce that, in this universe of fascists and commissars, the objective of these pages will be, by argument and by example, in politics and in culture, the rehabilitation of liberalism.

I find this refreshing, liberalism is being attacked from all sides and it is good to be reminded what it is and entails. The essays all orbit around this central concept while rarely addressing it directly. 

My favorite chapters include:

  • A rumination on how the nature of transgression has changed in today’s culture
  • A quick history lesson on the founding principles of Indian democracy and how Modi is eroding them
  • A first person view of the horrors of the opioid epidemic
  • A heterodox vision on the nature of addiction
  • A translated excerpt on the nature of hate from the memoirs of a man imprisioned first by the nazis and then the soviets, sadly still very relevant 
  • An appreciation of the writing and life of James Baldwin (I’m ashamed to admit I have not read any of his stuff but hope to soon)

And there’s much more. There were only a few things that didn’t interest me and only one that I thought wasn’t written very well. To be fair I don’t think they are a native English writer but it was still tough to get through. 

Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing and I’m looking forward to the next issue. 

books culture

Audio Doctor Who Spinoffs

Big Finish has produced a bunch of Doctor Who Radio plays. By and large they are great. As time has gone on, they have made a bunch of spinoffs that don’t include the Doctor in any of his versions. Most of these use characters or groups directly from the TV show although they have done a few that are products of Big Finish. I wasn’t too impressed with the first one I heard, Graceless. It was about a pair of “sisters” that were created by powerful entities during one of the story arcs. Never really felt like it went anywhere. They have since put out a second set, but I haven’t heard anything about it and I’m not all that interested in getting it. I am looking forward to one that has been in the works for years. Nick Briggs keeps promising that he is going to do a Charlotte Pollard spinoff. Charlie was played by India Fisher. Charlie was a long time companion to the 8th and the 6th Doctor (in that order interestingly) and she is a favorite of a lot of fans, including myself. Nick says it will come out at some point, I will definitely get it…

Big Finish has released a ton of other spinoffs. I’ve listened to the Cyberman, Dalek Empire I-IV, UNIT, I Davros, Sarah Jane Adventures series and enjoyed them. They do have two series that really stand out though, Gallifrey and Jago and Lightfoot.

Gallifrey chronicles the goings on back on the home planet of the Time Lords. It stars the regular Doctor Who characters of Leela, Romana II, and K-9. It also includes a book/audio character named Irving Braxital. The first three episodes were gripping political dramas with lots of action and intrigue. The fourth series was a real departure and that made a lot of fans angry. I’ve warmed up to it, mostly because we have been told that the series will finish up picking up where we left them in series three. Gallifrey does an excellent job of showing how conniving and political the Time Lords were. No wonder the Doctor had to get out of there…

The other standout series is Jago and Lightfoot. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Lightfoot were characters in the classic 4th doctor adventure “The Talons of Wang Chiang.” Big Finish has managed to create an entire series based around those characters’ infernal investigations in the Victorian era. It seems strange to think that secondary characters that showed up in one TV show could have 12 more stories, but it works very well. The acting is fantastic and the whole thing is all kinds of fun. Lots of fog, lots of monsters and bad guys. Even a little time travel thrown in. All in foggy Victorian London. Good stuff, well worth listening to.

There is a new series coming out from Big Finish. Since they hit a home run with one set of secondary characters, I guess they are going to try again with a different set. This time it is a group from the 7th Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks. I’m looking forward to hearing it. The trailers make it clear that they are aiming to recreate a 60’s sound. We’ll see if Big Finish can do it again.

Another audio spinoff that is well worth listening to is from Magic Bullet productions. The Kaldor City series uses the world created in the 4th Doctoe show “The Robots of Death.” It is a classic episode and Magic Bullet have managed to make a great political thriller out of it. It is very reminiscent of Robots of Death, there are plenty of mentions of Terran Capel, robophobia, sand mines, etc. If you liked Robots of Death, you’ll love Kaldor City!

books culture

Doctor Who spinoffs

Sure, some fans of Doctor Who consider themselves crazy fans because they have seen all the new series. Some others think you have to have seen all of the original series too. I think those people are missing out on a whole world of fandom. There are zillions of books, audios, and comics out there that explore the universe that the TV show created. Personally, as great as the TV show has been, I think that the audios and books outclass the TV show by a considerable margin. I have listened to the vast majority of the Doctor Who audios and love them. The hit rate on them is quite a bit higher than the new series, and miles above the original. I have read 40 something novels and also found them to be more engrossing than the TV show. SO fans of the TV show have a lot of exploring to do in order to get a more comprehensive view of Doctor Who.

So, as a fan I think the Doctor Who books and audios are where it’s at. But I’m going one step further, this post is about the spinoffs of Doctor Who. How far into the red can my nerd-meter go?

First off, the TV spinoffs. As far as I can tell, the TV spinoffs amount to a pilot episode of a Sarah Jane investigates show, the proper Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, and a K-9 show that I can’t remember the name of. Th Sarah Jane Adventures are easily the most consistently good of the shows. Torchwood had its moments, especially the Children of Earth series, but was really inconsistent. The two shows are very different from each other. The SJA is quite clearly a kid’s show. Great writing, good acting, they are a lot of fun, but the are definitely for the younger crowd. Torchwood went the opposite direction. They wanted to be an “adult” show so badly. Per usual, this usually means violence and sex. Children of Earth was the only one I can think of that was properly adult (as opposed to being gimmicky) in that it involved real horror, despair, heartbreaking decisions and regret so real you can’t sleep. I’ve only seen one episode of the K-9 series, I think it’s made in Austrailia and it really didn’t seem to be very interesting let alone good.

When the show was cancelled in 1989, fans were cut adrift. Some people convinced the BBC to allow them to write Doctor Who novels with the 7th Doctor and his companions. The Virgin New Adventures picked up where the TV show left off. Overall, they were quite a bit darker, with more violence, sexual situations, and generally adult themes. The 7th doctor continued with Ace for a while. He eventually picked up an archeologist in the Paul Cornell book Love and War. No, not that archeologist, Bernice Summerfield! Bernice (Benny to her friends) has been going strong for 20 years now. I’ll have to count, but she may have been with the Doctor for more books than Ace was. Benny stayed on with the Doctor until Virgin lost the license to write about the Doctor. So they spun her off into her own books. Like all good spinoffs, they were limited by copyright issues. The books certainly exist in the Doctor Who universe, but they can’t mention The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen, or anything else owned by the BBC. It isn’t as limiting as you might think. Benny is still going strong. Big Finish is celebrating her 20th anniversary this year with new books and continuing the audio series. I’ve been talking to the folks at Big Finish and they would like to make ebook versions of their out of print Benny books but worry about the difficulty of getting digital distribution rights. The New Adventures seem to be stuck in copyright hell. Most of them are long out of print and it doesn’t look good for them being re-released.

When the BBC worked with FOX to make the 8th Doctor TV movie, it was the end of the Virgin Doctor Who franchise. Since the movie actually showed the 7th Doctor turn into the 8th, it also spelled the end of the 7th Doctor. When nothing became of the hoped for 8th Doctor series, they started making books with him in them. The BBC also started to publish past doctor adventures featuring previous Doctors and companions.


Iris Wildthyme came out of the Past Doctor Adventures, we first see her with the 4th Doctor. She is an older, boozy time traveller that exists as a warped parallel to the Doctor. Her stories are really about having fun. Her “TARDIS” is a Routmaster double decker bus (the no. 22 to Putney Common) that is curiously smaller on the inside than the outside. Her favorite gin is Bombay Saphire, and she typically travels with a stuffed panda (don’t call him a toy!) named Panda. Reading her stories is frequently a trip into Doctor Who fandom and mythology. She has alluded to her knowing that she is fictional several times, it can get a bit meta at times. Iris books and stories are all about having fun. For example, my favorite line of hers is from the Big Finish audio “The Wormery.” She has been communing with the villains behind the scenes in a drunken stupor and the 6th Doctor is giving her a hard time about it. Her retort? “What we need is less thinking, MORE DRINKING!” Katy Manning (who played Jo Grant on the TV show) plays Iris brilliantly in the audios. Another example, Obverse Books is coming out with a short story collection featuring her being trapped in realities based on David Bowie songs. You get the idea, a more frivolous take on Doctor Who. If you don’t like Iris, you’re too serious. Iris audios are being made and sold by Big Finish and the books are mostly being put out by Obverse Books.

Lawrence Miles introduced us to Faction Paradox in the 8th Doctor Adventures. The Faction is a splinter group of Time Lords that embraces paradox, something that is anathema to the Time Lords. They are your typical criminal, time traveling cult that uses ritual to disrupt time lines and screw with the TIme Lords. Lawrence spun off Faction Paradox in a series of novels, audios, and a short lived comic series. Since he was writing outside of BBC blessing, he had to change a few things. First off, there was no mention of The Doctor and the Time Lords were referred to as “The Great Houses.” The Faction Paradox world reviles around The War between the Great Houses and The Enemy. We never do get an explicit explanation of who the enemy is. Fans have speculated on everything from future versions of the Time Lords, The Doctor, or even the concept of Fiction. Yes, concepts can be an enemy in the world of Faction Paradox. The novels from Mad Norwegian Press spend quite a bit of time with the idea that information, meaning, and the connections we make between them are the real reality. Whoever can control that and adjust it have the real power. I have really enjoyed the Faction Paradox books so far because they have really widened my view of the Doctor Who universe. I have a better understanding of what is at stake with the altering of time lines, paradox, and time travel in general. Plus, they manage to bring in a little magic too. Well, it looks like magic, but it is just a different way of altering information, so it looks like magic. There have been two audio series of Faction Paradox. One was put out by a company called BBV and now are only available from the owner via eBay. Haven’t heard them yet but they have a great reputation. The other, more recent series was put out by Magic Bullet Productions and is excellent. Still available too.


This has gone on long enough, I’ll tackle the Doctor Who Spinoffs created solely by Big Finish in another post.

art books culture technology

I told you it was good

Remember that short film I mentioned? I saw “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” in the interactive app of the same name on my iPad. Turns out it won the Oscar for best short film. While I don’t usually pay any attention to what the academy does, I’m pretty sure they got this one right.

books technology

Remarkable animation

The Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an amazing short film. It’s amazing how far animation has come. It’s about 15 minutes long, so be careful if you’re on a bandwidth limited internet connection.


It really is a sweet and touching piece. I found it through an app for the iPad that turns it into an interactive book for children. Each scene has some writing that expands the story and at the end of each paragraph, the movie clip becomes interactive. It really is a lot of fun even though it’s probably aimed at the 6 to 8 year old demographic. You get to play pop goes the weasel on the piano and you get to use the iPad to steer Morris through his flight inside a book among other things. I can only imagine what kind of impact this kind of storytelling could have on kids groaning up. Of course when you apply it to educational purposes, the possibilities are endless. Look out future, here we come!

books economics

Sign of the times

Sales of “Atlas Shrugged” have tripled over this time last year. I wonder if one of the effects of this administration will be to make libertarianism cool again…

books economics

Competition and Predictably Irrational

I’ve picked up another book. It’s called “Predictably Irrational.” The author uses examples from experimental economics to teach us how we differ from how some economic models might suggest or assume we act. So far, there have been some interesting results, his discussion about the concept of “free” in particular is thought provoking.

One chapter is entitled “The fallacy of supply and demand.” Naturally, this caught my eye. He uses some experiments to show how ideas of what things are worth initially can be more or less arbitrarily set by advertising or other clever sales techniques. Ok, so far so good. The results are pretty convincing, but he doesn’t stop there. He then extrapolates these results into the idea that people’s thoughts on value are easily manipulated and therefore we can’t rely on markets and free markets ideas in general to bring about equitable trades since everyone is under the sway of the advertisers.

He’s way off. He left out a very important aspect of supply and demand, perhaps the most important one out there… competition. I am fully willing to believe that when confronted with a new thing, we don’t have a good idea of what it should cost or what value that thing has to us. His experiments show that that concept of value is easily skewed by all sorts of things. But a rational person doesn’t usually buy the first thing he sees, he checks around for prices. It is competition that tells us what we can expect to pay for something. Once we know that, we can figure out how we value that thing.

It isn’t clear to me what supply and demand even means without taking competition into account. So his chapter certainly doesn’t show any “fallacy” with that concept. Rational people check prices, who knew?

books economics

The essence of economics

I received the Bastiat collection the other day (published by and as expected, I am totally blown away by it. He proves that you can get the essence of economics without having to be a mathematician or spend an eternity in college studying it. This is his introduction to the first essay in the book, the famous, “That which is seen, and that which is not seen.”

“In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality. When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately.

This explains man’s necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle; therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that, in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight. Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by making us feel them, and we cannot fail to learn eventually, from having been burned ourselves, that fire burns. I should prefer, in so far as possible, to replace this rude teacher with one more gentle: foresight. For that reason I shall investigate the consequences of several economic phenomena, contrasting those that are seen with those that are not seen.”

That is the essence of economics. Much of what he has to say is relevent to the current machinations of Washington DC. Pretty good for someone that was writing in the early 1800’s!



I received several books for Christmas and I’ve been impressed with them. Not only are they good books in the sense that they are good to read, but they are nice objects in and of themselves.

There’s something about a nice book that makes the reading experience more enjoyable. Being a hardback isn’t enough. Most hardbacks out there are really nothing more than a paperback binding with stiff covers. A good hardback will be stitched together. Having a good spine that will withstand repeated readings is part of being a good book. Of course the legibility of the type, the feel of the paper, and the tactile feel of the thing helps too.

I got my Bastiat collection yesterday (available here online. WARNING, this is a large file…). It has a textbook kind of feel to the cover (which isn’t a bad thing) and a they did a great job on the printing and the paper they used. Be prepared for extensive quotes from this in posts to come…


I also got “The New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton. This book is precious! It is just the right size, somewhat smaller than the typical hardback book, cloth bound, and looks great on the inside. It even has a ribbon stitched into the binding (like a Bible) to mark your page. It turns out that Shambhala has put out 4 of Merton’s books like this and I haven’t read any of them! I can see some more of them in my future…


On a lighter note…


I also got some more of the Peanuts collection by Fanatgraphics. Wow, what a great job they’re doing. There have been various Peanuts collections done before, but they are publishing ALL of the strips Charles Schultz did in order. For those of us that love Peanuts, it is a dream come true. The books are wonderful as well and will withstand repeated readings with ease. It was a great Christmas for books! I’m going to hold onto these for a long time…

books technology


I just finished reading “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. It’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Along with several others, it was the book that launched the whole “cyberpunk” genre in science fiction. What’s that? It’s hard to pin it down exactly, but there’s a lot of being on the net in a virtual way, total technology domination of the world, amoral and vicious characters, and a general world weariness… The original “Max Headroom” gave you a taste of it. You can also look to the “Ghost in the Shell” movies and series to get a more modern take on on the genre.

Neuromancer war written in 1984, and it shows. To me, it reeks of the 80’s. I remember what the future was supposed to hold, a never-ending cold war with the soviets, japanese corporations running the world, and a general disintegration of all moral orders. As a story, it’s OK. Truth be told, sci-fi books have always left me flat, but at least I was entertained.

The most interesting thing for me was how his vision of the future looked and how closely it resembled today’s reality. Gibson’s view of cyberspace is still in the future. In his world, cyberspace is an all-encompassing virtual world. When you “jack in” you leave this world and enter a totally different one. You float in space, appearances are dynamic and can shift at an instance. We’re still a ways from that although I wouldn’t argue about how far away. Technology moves so fast that it’s difficult to have any good idea about what’s going to happen even in the near future.

That’s where Gibson had some trouble. The birth of the internet as we know it today happened 5 or 6 years after he wrote this book. He understood the extent of information that would be involved, but not the amount. At one point, we were supposed to try and even conceive of thousands of megabytes being transmitted across cyberspace. Can you imagine? Thousands of megabytes! LOL, I have 100,000 (or so) megabytes of storage on my computer, I can’t really imagine what something like google of you-tube goes through, and neither could Gibson at the time.

What we might consider the more pedestrian things that he missed are actually much more influential that his big ideas. Things like cell phones are totally absent from his world. Along with that is the ubiquitousness of the internet. In his world, only certain people with the right equipment had access. In our world, anyone with a decent cell phone has access.

I’m not picking on Gibson, nobody could see how things were going to unfold. It’s a good lesson to be taught from time to time, even the most visionary of artists can’t imagine how little things like cell phones will totally transform the world. We need to keep that in mind whenever we engage in long term plans. Things in the future will not be the same as they are now. That seems obvious enough, but we tend to only think of the big things that will change, not the incredible number of little things that totally transform day to day life. It’s also important to remember than things can indeed get better. Technology doesn’t have to be dehumanizing the way it is in so may sci-fi books. The internet has made the world a smaller one, and I think that’s real progress.