SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Hugo and Emmy Awards; Tony Soprano’s Fate; Next Season on Arrow and Fargo; Finales of Falling Skies, True Blood, Defiance, and The Last Ship; Karen Gillian’s Hair; Rebooting Fox Genre Shows; Libby Masters vs. Betty Draper; American Gods; Jennifer Lawrence, and much more

Doctor-Who--Into-the-Dalek

Peter Capaldi’s second episode of Doctor Who was much better than the first. Into the Dalek was literally about going into a Dalek, Fantastic Voyage style. Once the reference was made, and we saw antibodies within the Dalek (for an unclear reason), I was surprised that Steven Moffat didn’t take the opportunity to recreate the attack of antibodies on Rachel Welch’s body with Jenna Coleman. Despite the Doctor’s strange criticism of Clara’s body at one  point in the episode, Clara did serve an important role as the Doctor’s moral compass, which was disrupted by the shock of seeing a good Dalek. The episode also served as the introduction of the next companion, and romantic interest for Clara, Danny Pink. There is no doubt that Clara and Danny will overcome the Doctor’s newfound objection to having a soldier join him, which certainly contradicts all the time he spent with UNIT.

While I knew the phrase was coming from advanced review, I was surprised by the context in which Resistance is Futile was used by the Dalek. There are certainly many comparisons to be made to the Borg, and I think Doctor Who did a better job than Star Trek The Next Generation with an episode about a good Dalek or Borg. Into the Dalek was a strong stand-alone episode, and now there is no doubt that Missy and “Heaven” will be a recurring storyline for the season. This time, instead of the person who the Doctor was fighting (and possibly pushed to his death), it was someone fighting with the Doctor who was seen in “Heaven.” My suspicion is that this will turn out to be something such as Missy saving people just before imminent death who are in the vicinity of the Doctor as opposed to actual “Heaven,” but even if I am right on this a lot of questions remain.

Doctor Who Extra (video above) gives behind the scenes information on the filming of Into The Dalek.

There have been two major sets of awards in the past couple of weeks, the Hugo Awards and the Emmy Awards. Doctor Who had five nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) but an episode of Game of Thrones won the award:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)

Gravity won for long form among these nominees:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • Gravity, written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)
  • Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)

The full list of nominees can be found here, with the winners listed here.

While the Emmy Awards generally goes with the safe bet, such as repeatedly giving the award for best comedy to Modern Family, there is at least some realization that genre is ignored. While Tatiana Maslany was snubbed for a second year for her work on Orphan Black, the snub was at least acknowledged in a skit. They finally discovered Sherlock, even if it meant awarding Emmys for the weakest of its three seasons. It was a pleasant surprise to see Steven Moffat up on stage, and he also provided some vague hints about season four in post-award interviews:

Sherlock was a big winner at the 66th Primetime Emmys, taking home three awards (to go with the four the show earned at last week’s Creative Arts ceremony), including trophies for stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

In celebrating his win for writing for a miniseries/movie or dramatic special, executive producer Steven Moffat dropped some hints backstage about the British drama’s anticipated fourth season, which begins production in January 2015 — the same time Doctor Who will also start filming.

Moffat was confident that the new season would be even more gasp-inducing than the previous year, which ended with an unexpected resurrection of a character presumed dead.

“We have a plan to top it — and actually I do think our plan is devastating,” he teased. “We practically reduced our cast to tears by telling them the plan. Honestly, Mark [Gatiss] and myself are so excited with what we’ve got coming up, probably more excited than we’ve ever been about Sherlock. … Honestly I think we can [top the last season].”

Moffat spoke of the surge of Emmy recognition the show has received in its third year.

“We’ve won outside of America, which is a place,” Moffat deadpanned. “We were just starting to think that that phase of our lives was dying down because as shows get older they don’t win as often — just like people. We’re delighted that we’ve made it here and hopefully this gets more people watching. That’d be great.”

He remained mum on when the new episodes would be premiering. “When they go out is up to the BBC,” he said. “And I am their loyal servant. I simply do what they ask me.”

Moffat reassured that the creative team behind the show will continue returning to Sherlock, no matter how busy they may be with other projects. “What’s happening with Sherlock is unusual,” he admitted. “We will keep coming back to it.”

sopranos2

I am thankful to Vox for finally settling in my mind how The Sopranos ended, even if they totally botched the story. When the finale first aired, after I realized that my cable hadn’t gone out, I interpreted it as an intentionally ambiguous ending. Sure, going to black could be what happens to Tony if shot, but I didn’t accept this interpretation as the scene was not from Tony’s perspective. The scene concentrated on many things Tony did not see, from the actions of others in in the coffee shop to Meadow attempting to park the car outside. If I wanted to think that they finished the meal and then Tony showed Meadow how to parallel park, this interpretation was as valid as any other. I saw the real meaning as that Tony would always face threats to his life. One of the people in the coffee shop might have shot him, or he could have been suddenly killed at some other time in the future. There was even a chance he could remain alive despite all the threats.

I was satisfied with this interpretation until I heard a report that David Chase had said that there was a definitive meaning to the finale. Perhaps, as happened again this week, the person reporting put too much meaning into what he said during an interview. However, if there was an answer to the question as to whether Tony Soprano lived in the ending, then I could only see this as meaning I was wrong. If limited to Tony living or dying, I thought it would be easier to making an argument that the ending meant that Tony had died.

Then Vox had an interview with David Chase last week in which it reported that Chase said that Tony had lived. I actually found this to be very unsatisfying as it lacked any further explanation. Soon afterwards, David Chase issued a statement that what he said in the interview was misconstrued:

A statement issued by Mr. Chase’s publicist, Leslee Dart, said that the Vox.com writer “misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview.”

“To simply quote David as saying, ‘Tony Soprano is not dead,’ is inaccurate,” the statement continued. “There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true.”

The statement added that Mr. Chase had said “numerous times on the record” that answering the question of whether “Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.”

“To continue to search for this answer is fruitless,” the statement said. “The final scene of ‘The Sopranos’ raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”

This leaves me comfortable in returning to my original interpretation, more confident than in the past that I’m just not in denial over a scene intended to show Tony Soprano as getting killed.

The new promo for season three of Arrow above will make Oliver/Felicity fans happy. A digital comic will fill the gap between the second and third seasons.

Fargo season two will concentrate on strong women characters.

Falling Skies showrunner David Eick answered questions on the season four finale.

The series finale of True Blood really isn’t worth talking about. It is a shame that they couldn’t put together something more meaningful to end the series with.

The writers on Defiance did try harder. They used a formula which often works in combining elements of a season-long story in each individual stand-alone stories. Unfortunately it didn’t work very well. It just didn’t work for me to have an alien girl being used by a supercomputer intelligence to destroy New York City and the rest of the planet, and then end the crisis by having her kiss a boy who was a minor character during the season. When the show runners previously talked about expanding the show to New York and space I expected something more sensible, and more than a quick scene at the end of the season.

I was more impressed with The Last Ship. While not an A-list, must-see show, they did a good job of keeping the show entertaining. When I heard that they had renewed the show for a second season, my immediate impression was that this would mean they would not find a cure no matter how many episodes gave them a lead. I am glad I was wrong on that. If the first few episodes reminded me of Battlestar Galactica at sea, the return home to a country destroyed by plague now makes me see the show more like Revolution or Jericho (hopefully doing a better job than Revolution). So far there is nothing ground breaking. Who didn’t see the remnants of the Unites States government as being the enemy and realize they were walking into a trap? Still the show does provide solid entertainment.

Last week’s episode made my happy I stuck with The Leftovers. The episode was a flashback which explained key points, such as why a family which did not appear to have lost anyone was affected so much by the rapture-like event.

Karen Gillan filmed the shaving of her hair for Guardians of the Galaxy (video above)

Joe and Anthony Russo will be directing the sixth season premiere of Community. The Russo brothers are also working on Captain America and say the third movie will be more like Winter Soldier than the first installment (which is a good thing).

What Culture gives five reasons Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For was a huge flop.

The video above provides a synopsis of last season of Person of Interest.

I’m not sure why, but Fox plans to reboot The Greatest American Hero. Amazon plans to return Patrick Warburton as The Tick. Fox provides plenty of material for anyone who desires to bring back a genre show canceled on the network. How about Firefly? I also wouldn’t mind seeing what happened after the cliff hanger on the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Scribbler includes several genre actresses including Katie Cassidy of Arrow. Trailer above (NSFW–contains nudity)

…it’s a comic book adaptation that stars Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Gina Gershon, Sasha Grey, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Imperioli and Billy Campbell, which is to say director John Suits has compiled an ensemble filled of “been there, done that” names, but they are recognizable names at least.

The film follows Suki (Cassidy), a young woman confronting her destructive mental illness using “The Siamese Burn,” an experimental machine designed to eliminate multiple personalities. The closer Suki comes to being “cured,” she’s haunted by a thought… what if the last unwanted identity turns out to be her?

Speaking of nudity by genre actresses, there has been more interest this week in the nude picture I posted of Jennifer Lawrence last year. That was a picture of her in her role as Mystique which was used as a publicity photo, and distribution of that is far different from hacking her phone or iCloud account, among with pictures of several other actresses, to obtain nude pictures which were privately stored with expectations that they remain private. As Jennifer Lawrence’s spokesperson said, “This is a flagrant violation of privacy.”

Bryan Fuller has ambitious plans for his adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Syfy has not renewed the Wil Wheaton Project. No big loss.

Assignment X has an interview with Caitlin FitzGerald, who plays Libby Masters on Masters of Sex. I’ve always been impressed with FitzGerald, who has done a lot of work in indy films. In her role as a late 50′s housewife she faces many of the same problems as Betty Draper on Mad Men. I wonder how much better Betty Draper’s role could have been if cast with someone with FitzGerald’s talent as opposed to January Jones. On the other hand, perhaps a less talented but more beautiful model is exactly who Don Draper would have married.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand provides a model for how the world should be for many libertarians. Wendy McElroy, who has strong libertarian credentials, found that the real world attempt at making Galt’s Gulch hasn’t worked out very well.

Hillary Clinton And The Left

Hillary Clinton and the Left

The Hill has an article on Hillary Clinton which, as is the case with many of their articles, recites the conventional wisdom with little real insight or new information. Most of their five points are trivial, such as that anything Hillary says, or doesn’t say (as in the case of Ferguson) makes the news. The only point in the article which I think is worthy of any discussion is the second, their claim that “The left doesn’t really hate her after all.”

In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.

On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.

“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.

Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.

But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.

A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.

Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.

“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.

Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”

For all practical purposes this might as well be true, but it is an over-simplification. I certainly would not consider Clinton to be a liberal, but the right has moved to so such extremes that she could not be classified as a conservative today either. She may be a former Goldwater girl, but the Republicans have moved far to the right of Barry Goldwater. One significant factor is that while the Republican Party is pulled to the right by a strong conservative movement, the Democratic Party is a centrist party which often ignores liberal influence. Many liberals I discuss politics with  are very concerned about Clinton’s relatively conservative views, but we also make up a tiny percentage of the centrist-dominated voters for the Democrats.

Clinton also benefits from the widespread realization that there is not much choice other than to support her. The faction of the left which would vote for the Green Party or a Ralph Nader like challenge from the left is even smaller than those of us who feel Clinton is too conservative. Most of us anti-Clinton Democrats realize that whatever faults Clinton has, the Republicans will be as bad on foreign policy and far worse on domestic policy.

Clinton also probably benefits from factors such as a favorable view among Democrats of electing the first female president. Plus there is nostalgia for the period of peace and prosperity when Bill Clinton was president. However the times have changed and electing a Clinton will not mean returning to the Clinton economy.

I suspect that these factors also blind many Democratic voters to how conservative Clinton is on many issues, even if given warnings in recent interviews. She is likely to be seen as more socially liberal than she actually is do her position on “women’s issues” but being even Republican women are more liberal than the Republican establishment in this area. While Clinton has received criticism for appearing dishonest and calculating for naming the Bible as the book with the greatest influence on her thinking, that might not really be out of character considering her past participation with the religiously conservative Fellowship while in Congress.

I also suspect that many liberals fail to realize how conservative she is on foreign policy issues. Being Obama’s Secretary of State blurs the distinctions between Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration, but during her tenure as Secretary of State the common pattern was for Clinton to push for a more hawkish position which was countered by others in the administration.

Clinton’s hawkish views on Iraq are also obscured by the fact that many Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. However, while all who voted yes were terribly mistaken, there were still significant differences in views within that group. On the left was John Kerry, who voted yes but clearly laid out the conditions under which war would be justified, and then spent the next several months pushing Bush not to go to war. On the extreme right of the Democratic Party there was Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, being unique among Democrats in pushing to go to war based upon the fictitious arguments connecting Saddam to al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

If someone were to mount a serious primary challenge to Clinton I suspect that opposition to Clinton would increase on the left, based upon foreign policy, economics, and social issues, along with questions about her competence and judgment. The 2008 race showed that deep down many Democrats do have reservations about Clinton and would support a viable challenge. Unfortunately, at least so far, I do not see such a challenge emerging. Many liberals who are concerned about Clinton’s Wall Street connections would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is talking about possibly running, but a self-described socialist has zero chance of winning in this country. Joe Biden is traveling to New Hampshire, leading to speculation about him running. While he is far from the ideal candidate, and I never really thought of backing him, as I read about how Biden was a strong voice against Clinton’s hawkish views in the Obama administration, Biden increasingly looks like a far more favorable alternative if he can mount a viable campaign and no better options arise.

Federal Court Throws Out Abortion Restrictions In Texas

Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:

A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.

The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.

Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:

One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.

On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”

Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.

The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.

Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”

The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:

If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.

Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

Hundreds of Thousands More People To Obtain Health Care Coverage Under Obamacare With Pennsylvania Joining Expanded Medicaid Program

Pennsylvania has become the 27th state, and 9th with a Republican governor, to accept the expanded Medicaid program. This significantly increases the number of people to receive health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting with about 300,000 and increasing to over a half million over the next two years. Some Republican governors are vulnerable for failing to join the program, especially considering that the federal government will pay 100% of the expense for expanding health care coverage through 2016, and afterwards it will gradually fall to 90 percent. Corbett is in danger of losing his reelection bid in Pennsylvania but it does not appear that his late adoption of the program will be enough to save him.

Currently three additional states, Indiana, Missouri, and Utah, are considering expansion and twenty states are not  considering Medicaid expansion at this time.

Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Study Shows Reduction In Opioid Overdoses By 25% In States Which Have Legalized Medical Marijuana

A major problem with narcotic pain medications is the risk of overdose. This problem has led to the DEA announcing last week that hydrocodone combination pain medications such as Norco and Vicodin are being reclassified as Schedule II narcotics, with additional restrictions being placed upon prescribing them. Any measures to help control chronic pain while reducing the incidence of overdose would certainly be welcome. The August 25, 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine presents a study of states which have legalized medical marijuana, showing a reduction in opioid overdoses by almost 25 percent:

Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time…

The study did not indicate the cause of this association. It is speculated that some people with chronic pain might use less opioid when medical marijuana is available. More study is needed to confirm this, but considering the problems faced with opioid overdoses, marijuana should be considered as an alternative. At very least, when considering any potential adverse consequences to legalization of medical marijuana, it must be kept in mind that the currently used medications for chronic pain do have a serious potential for adverse effects themselves.

Marijuana is now classified as a Schedule I drug which prevents prescribing it. (In states where medical marijuana is legal, the change in the law protects those using it from prosecution but marijuana still cannot be prescribed). Many have already questioned the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as it appears to show less risk of problems from overdose compared to current Schedule II and Schedule III drugs. This study suggests that marijuana might also help protect against some of the adverse effects of narcotics.

Patrick Stewart Shows How To Handle The Ice Bucket Challenge

Yesterday I posted the videos of Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here’s one for Star Trek fans in which Patrick Stewart shows the right way to do this.

My wife and I had sort of the same idea yesterday. We both mixed up a couple of glasses of gin and tonic and sent in a contribution.

Contributions to the ALS Association can be sent through their web site.

Quote of the Day: Conan on What Republicans Do For Fun

“Disneyworld has become a popular location for Republican fundraisers. A favorite activity is to ride through It’s a Small World and deport most of the dolls.” –Conan O’Brien

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch Take Ice Bucket Challenge; Gotham; True Blood; Minority Report; Dating Naked; Richard Attenborough

Doctor Who Deep Breath

We now have a new regeneration of the Doctor, a redecorated TARDIS, and a new title sequence on Doctor Who. Unfortunately the plot of Deep Breath was not very good. There was the return of the droids from The Girl in the Fireplace. Unlike the challenge of not blinking in Blink and other stories with the Weeping Angels, the challenge in this episode was seeing how long you could hold your breath. There was plenty of humor between the confusion of the Doctor post-regeneration, along with cultural misunderstandings and the usual Strax humor. In addition, Moffat’s inner teenager came out wigh having a dinosaur and multiple allusions to Clara either removing her clothes or having sex. The Doctor did do some flirting, but only with the female dinosaur and not Clara, plus there was a human/lizard lesbian kiss. There was even the reported cameo by Matt Smith, telephoning Clara from his past.

While this episode was far from one of the better post-regeneration episodes, the episode did leave me confident that Peter Capaldi will make an excellent 0ld school style Doctor, and of course Jenna Coleman remains an excellent companion, even if there is no flirting or actual removal of her clothing. There are some vague clues of things to come. While we know that the reason the Doctor has seen his face before is because Peter Capaldi has appeared on Doctor Who in other roles, it appears that the reason for the same face will be given an explanation within the story in future episodes. The end of this episode left open the possibility that this could be the start of a new arc, with Missy apparently having had key roles in the past, such as giving Clara the Doctor’s phone number in The Bells of St. John. Capaldi presented what could also be a theme for the season: “I’m the Doctor, I’ve lived for over 2,000 years, and not all of them were good; I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.”

Next week: Daleks.

There is a rumor that Jenna Coleman will be leaving Doctor Who in the Christmas episode. Peter Capaldi denies this.

There are alternative versions of Doctor Who. For example, check out the above video celebrating fifty years of American  Doctor Who. IO9 looked at a porn parody of Doctor Who which can be viewed at Woodrocket.com.

Matt Smith has taken the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock went even further, including getting naked in the shower for a repeat exposure. Contributions to the ALS Association can be sent through their web site.

Last week I noted that the pilot for A to Z is available on line. A sit-com pilot with an even stronger genre connection was released this week–Selfie staring Karen Gillan.

A four-part You Tube series with background on Gotham has been released. The first part is above.

True Blood finally reaches the true end tonight. Does anyone even care anymore whether Bill really goes through with true death or if the show end with true love? At least there were some humorous moments in the final few episodes, such as Ginger finally getting to have sex with Eric. The scene is discussed more here.

My theory as to how the series ends is that Sookie will decide to become a vampire to convince Bill that the two of them can spend eternity happily ever after. Bill refuses to turn her into a vampire so she goes to Eric. By the time Sookie gets out of the ground she finds that Bill has already died from Hepatitis V. Meanwhile Pam, thinking Eric turned Sookie into a vampire for herself, kills Sookie. Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) then leaves the show for a role on Daredevil. We will find out later tonight if my prediction comes through.

Steven Spielberg is developing a television series based upon the movie Minority Report.

Dating Naked

The big law suit this week stemming from television is Jessie Nizewitz suing Viacom for $10 million because not everything was obscured in the airing of Dating Naked. This led to many web sites (including here) posting the uncensored picture. I do not think a model should film a television show entirely naked if she has any qualms about pictures of her crotch getting out. Plus I would bet that far more people have now seen her nude pictures following the publicity from this law suit.

Richard Attenborough has died at age 90.

Lord Attenborough was one of Britain’s leading actors, before becoming a highly successful director.

In a career that spanned six decades, he appeared in films including Brighton Rock, World War Two prisoner of war thriller The Great Escape and later in dinosaur blockbuster Jurassic Park.

As a director he was perhaps best known for Gandhi, which won him two Oscars.