Friday, 19 October 2007

Friday Grab Bag

I Got You, Beeb
It's turmoil time at the BBC, which
must save money by trimming 2,500 jobs, reducing duplication and canceling what it calls "middling" programs. (How you'd like to have worked on one of those?) Because the British love a good strike (we never know when we're going to get our mail, though yesterday our postman said he'd see us at least "for the next few days"), BBC employees are threatening to join the picket line.

The same sort of forces that are facing newspapers are facing the BBC. Of course, the BBC receives money from every household in Britain, courtesy of the TV license fee, something The Washington Post doesn't enjoy. But just as The Post is being buffeted by increased competition and an uncertain marketplace, so too is the BBC.

In his column in today's Guardian, Simon Jenkins observes that the BBC's role as a sort of national surrogate newspaper is being eroded by advances in technology. True "public" broadcasting is the sort that shows up on the Internet. Transform the Beeb into a lean, mean multi-platform machine, Jenkin argues. And he gets off a great line: "Like the Royal Navy, Oxbridge and the Church of England, the BBC has been led to imagine that it can join the 21st century by thinking of ever cleverer ways of staying in the 20th."

Shouldn't She Have Seen It Coming?
Sunlight streaming through a crystal ball on the windowsill of a house in Dorset set the curtains on fire. "It was a most unusual incident," said a firefighter.

In the Zone

My hometown, Washington, D.C., has always been a desirable vacation destination for people who like to live life on the edge. Why? Because you never know what you're going to be charged when you take a taxi cab there.

Though the gear and the pinion wheel were invented centuries ago, and the taxi meter not long after that, in D.C. cab drivers prefer to charge their customers based on something known as the zone system. Posted in each cab--displayed in a curling and yellowing plastic sleeve on the back of the front passenger seat--is an inscrutable taxi zone map that divides the city into 23 separate chunks of real estate. Your fare is determined by how many of those different borders you traverse. Oh, and by how honest your driver is.

The map is nearly impossible to read, especially if you're unfamiliar with the city. Many's the time I've taken a cab from Point A to Point B, only to be charged something completely different when I went from Point B to Point A. It's always been a crap shoot to take a D.C. cab, especially if you're visiting from out of town.

But Washington's mayor, Adrian Fenty, has pulled the plug on the zone system, announcing that D.C. will switch to time-and-distance meters, like just about every other city in the civilized world.

Washington has a lot of quirks to it. (Its citizens don't have a voting representative in Congress for example.) The zone map was one of those, an artifact, it's said, of a time when politicians wanted to cheaply travel from Capitol Hill to the White House. There's also an argument that the zone system is fairer to poor people, who, without cars, use cabs to travel from one end of the city to the other.

Of course, it had the potential to screw every one else, especially tourists. The city has been mulling a change for years, and all sorts of studies have been done. There was talk of some sort of hybrid system, using GPS receivers to automagically determine when a zone was passed. But given that many of the cabs can't even manage working air conditioners or seat belts, it seemed a stretch to think advanced technology would solve the problem.

So meters it is. The taxi drivers supposedly aren't happy and are threatening a strike. Now, do you think they'd do this out of concern for customers? I'm sure some crooked drivers will figure out a way to still cheat, but it's going to take some creativity: circuitously driving on back roads or purposely getting stuck in traffic as the meter ticks over. If they're going to rip us off, let's make them earn it.

Gargoyle of the Week
Two squirrels, clutching their nuts:

And I hope they're red squirrels, since as I mentioned previously, Britain is fighting an invasion of non-native gray squirrels. A hotel in Cumbria has added squirrel appetizers to the menu in an effort to reduce the overpopulation.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.


suburbancorrespondent said...

My friend sent her kids outside last February to see if a magnifying glass really could set a pile of leaves on fire. It did. Right next to the house. She described the incident to the firefighters who showed up to fight the blaze as "a homeschooling science experiment run amok."

And I thought the public schools were dangerous....

mark from alexandria said...

As much as I would like to sympathize with the BBC's problems,there are two words that stop me, well, an abbreviation and a word: BBC America. They started out by, apparently, finding every way they could to alienate what should have been their core audience (e.g., the EastEnders debacle), then, with their Discovery Channel partners, went on to try to become just another LCD cable station. How much mileage can you get out the late Princess of Wales? Well, that is my rant for the day