SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sleepy Hollow; Outlander; Star Trek TOS In Wide Screen; You’re The Worst; Married; An Honourable Woman; Gilmore Girls; SHIELD; Agent Carter; The Hulk; Supergirl; Teen Titans; The Leftovers

Doctor Who Listen

Listen was an ambitious episode of Doctor Who, even if it does fall short of Blink, which it has been compared to. The episode deals with the character and origin of the Doctor, the further importance of the impossible girl in the development of the Doctor, along with Danny Pink’s (and presumably Clara’s) family tree. The episode begins with the Doctor writing on his chalk board (chalk boards are cool) and seeming to be talking directly to the audience about an idea he has come up with:

Listen! Question, why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone? Conjecture: because we know we’re not. Evolution perfects survival skills. There are perfect hunters There is perfect defense. Question,  why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer: how would you know? Logically, if evolution were to perfect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view, how would you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it? Even sense it? Except in those moments when for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud. What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

In many ways this is a repeat of previous Moffat ideas. The Weeping Angels, introduced in Blink, are a terror which can be hidden in plain site, only moving when you aren’t looking at them. The Silence took this further, with people losing all memory of seeing them. Now the Doctor postulates a creature which cannot be detected at all. However, while we learned about the nature of the Weeping Angels and the Silence, at the end of the episode it is not clear whether these beings even exist.

If the exist, they could mean that a common nightmare is really about something which has actually occurred:

I think everybody at some point in their lives has the exact same nightmare. You wake up, or you think you do, and there’s someone in the dark, someone close. Or you think there might be. So you sit up, turn on the light, and the room looks different at night. It ticks, creaks, and breathes. And you tell yourself there’s nobody there. Nobody watching, nobody listening, nobody there, naturally. And you very nearly believe it. You really, really try.

Doctor-Who-Clara-and-Young-Doctor

For the Doctor it was real, but instead of being a creature whose existence was unknown, it turned out to be Clara, back in time to the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey.  Seeing the Doctor’s childhood in the barn does provide a connection to The Day of the Doctor, providing a reason as to why the War Doctor chose this place to decide whether to detonate the Moment. The scene also provides background to the Doctor’s antipathy towards soldiers (at this season, ignoring his past work with UNIT) and reused a line from 1963: “Fear makes companions of us all.”

It is questionable whether Clara could really control the TARDIS at all (even putting aside Sexy’s dislike of Clara, as revealed in The Doctor’s Wife), and even more questionable whether she it could have gone to Gallifrey, which was time locked, but whose status is no longer clear after the events of The Time of The Doctor. However these minor questions of continuity are outweighed by the manner in which Moffat ties in the entire history of the Doctor and the show.

Besides Gallifrey, the TARDIS traveled along Danny Pink’s timeline, presumably due to the importance to Clara’s. This included a visit to him as a young child, then called Rupert, to literally the end of the universe where a time-traveling descendant was stranded. If the implications are correct that Orson Pink is a descendant of both Danny and Clara, it looks like time travel is the Pink/Oswald family business on Doctor Who just as it is for Alec’s family on Continuum. Clara also has both influenced Danny’s decision to be a soldier and has made Dan the Soldier Man not only an important part of Danny’s life, but a family heirloom. Clearly, “A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun” also refers to the Doctor.

Listen isn’t limited to other times ranging from the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey to the end of the universe. Moffat also took advantage of his experience from Coupling to present Clara and Danny’s first date. Things did not work out very well, but Clara ultimately figured out that she had to make it right.

One of the scenes of the date included an astronaut walking through the restaurant to get Clara. Using the astronaut suit made no sense, but this, along with the minor questions of continuity, can easily be overlooked. A more serious problem with the episode is that the initial question as to whether the creature which the Doctor speculated about does exist is never answered. Learning that Clara was the creature under the Doctor’s bed suggested that there was no need for such a complicated explanation for the nightmare. The noises in Orson’s ship could have been these creatures, or perhaps just noises from the ship. It is harder to explain what wrote on the Doctor’s chalkboard, and what was under Rupert’s sheets.

Above is the Doctor Who Extra for Listen.

Last week I posted the synopsis for the first episode of season two of Sleepy Hollow. Fox has released the synopsis for the second:

ICHABOD AND ABBIE TRY TO GET A “HEAD” OF THE COMPETITION ON AN ALL-NEW “SLEEPY HOLLOW” MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, ON FOX

Ichabod Crane and Lt. Abbie Mills concoct a daring plan to try to rescue Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, from the Headless Horseman by resurrecting a Frankenstein-like monster created by Benjamin Franklin. Meanwhile, Frank Irving faces new trouble after revealing the true details of his encounter with a demon, and Jenny Mills finds herself at odds with the new sheriff in town in the all-new “The Kindred” episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Monday, Sept. 29 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (SLH-202) (TV-14 L, V)

OUTLANDER Garisson Commander

While sometimes Outlander seems to move too slowly, The Garrison Commander does advance the plot considerably. It seems to be a safe prediction that Jack Randall does not just forget about Claire following her marriage. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Tobias Menzies, who plays both Jack Randall and, back in the 20th century, Clarie’s husband Frank. The interview does have some major spoilers as to future events from the novels:

Because Outlander is primarily Claire’s story, we don’t get to see Frank’s internal monologue while she’s in 1743 Scotland. Have you filled in the blanks in terms of Frank’s state of mind and what he’s dealing with back in England?

We see Frank still struggling to come to terms with what happened, and be at loggerheads with the authorities and the police. Basically, they tell him to go home and that his wife has eloped with someone else. He won’t believe it. Through the episodes, we see him coming to accept the version of events that people are saying to him. I suppose he does know Claire better than the others, and in a way, he’s right. She isn’t a woman who would run off with someone else, and he’s forced to give up. I think it’s a good episode.

At the end of the episode, Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie. How do you think Frank would react to that?

I think he would be pretty understanding. My understanding is that Claire, later on in the novels, reappears and is taken back by Frank, even though she’s pregnant and she tells this story of time travel. And for whatever reason, he chooses to accept it and raise a child together, which I think is a pretty big gesture on his part. What’s interesting about Frank is that he’s thoughtful. It’s not the great, most ostentatious of loves. In that respect, he’s overshadowed by Jamie and Claire. But I think [Frank and Claire’s relationship is] deep and meaningful and speaks volumes.

This was a big episode for Black Jack and Claire. Let’s talk about the interrogation scene.

It’s only a page and half in the book. It was a great decision on the part of the writers to explode that moment. In the book, there’s a lot of Jack being referred to and not a lot of him being there. You need him onscreen. I’m really happy with where it ended up. It gave us the time to go back and understand where the backstory with Jamie and Jack began and also to understand the emotions that are driving Jack, so he isn’t just a two-dimensional thug. Compared to the rest of the season, it’s a change of gear. It’d be interesting to see how people find it.

Star Trek Wide Screen.

Star Trek Wide Screen 2

Here are some great examples of what Star Trek, the original show, could have looked if filmed in wide screen. Here is creator Nick Acosta’s description of this project:

Forty eight years ago this week Star Trek debuted its first episode on NBC. The show, like all other shows at the time, was broadcast in the old style 4×3 aspect ratio. Using HD screen caps from my friends at Trekcore.com, I created this project of what the show would have looked like in Cinerama widescreen. As a kid the show always felt bigger and more epic than it appears to me as an adult. I was able to create these shots by waiting for the camera to pan and then I stitched the separate shots together. The result is pretty epic. It reminds me of the classic science fiction movies of the 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly the show has a “Forbidden Planet” vibe. Other shots remind me of how director Robert Wise would use a camera technique to keep the foreground and background elements in focus.

Youre The Worst

Major television events of the upcoming week include the season finale of the best new sit-com to come around in a long time, You’re The Worst. Gretchen and Jimmy might be “the worst” but that is what makes them so fun to watch. If the season is a ten episode version of a warped romantic comedy movie, the eighth episode was the required portion in which the couple temporarily break up based upon a misunderstanding. Last week was somewhat of an origin episode with flash backs to before they met, as shown in the pilot. Hopefully this Thursday will end the season with the two back together, and ready for many seasons to come. The other summer sit-com from FX, Married, also ends this week. If it returns I will probably watch it, but it is You’re The Worst which I will really miss if it does not return.

You’re the Worst would also be a great show to binge watch if you haven’t seen it, with only ten episodes for the season and all highly entertaining. Another show to binge watch if  you missed it (as I did until binging over the past week) is An Hounorable Woman. Certainly there are unrealistic aspects, but watching it for eight hours was like reading a highly entertaining novel, and the portions which might not be realistic in the real world can easily be ignored while following the events surrounding Nessa Stein and her family.

Binge watchers are also getting excited to hear that the full seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls will be available on Netflix starting October 1. In 2006 I posted some of the political lines from the show. USA Today has listed five top episodes to watch once they are available.

If you want to stick with science fiction, Vulture has listed the best science fiction movies on Netflix.

Nurse Jackie is to end after the upcoming seventh season. It is probably the right decision. We can’t keep going through cycles of Jackie getting off drugs and then relapsing year after year.

Community, on the other hand, deserves at least one more year and a movie–preferably far more. I am glad to hear that Dan Harmon is denying the rumors that Alison Brie is not returning.

Hayley Atwell, star of the upcoming series Agent Carter, will appear on the second season premiere of Agents of SHIELD. I don’t know if this will be a flash-back or Agent Carter at an older age. In other Marvel news, there is talk that the Hulk might return both for a television series and movie. New DC projects being considered include Supergirl and Teen Titans.

While the show has had its ups and downs, The Leftovers did end with a satisfying season finale (far more than I can say for True Blood). While the show will probably never really explain what happened, at least we have the view of some characters as for the reason only some disappeared, along with finally learning what The Guilty Remnant was up to. The show has now caught up with the end of the novel, making next season even more of an unknown.

Martin O’Malley Organizing In Iowa For 2016 Campaign

Martin OMalley Iowa

Earlier in the month I noted fund initial fund raising by Martin O’Malley which may have been the start of a potential challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. It looks like he is serious, being the first to start organizing a campaign in Iowa:

Martin O’Malley’s incipient presidential campaign already has 11 staffers on the ground in Iowa, working to elect Democrats and build valuable connections for 2016.

Several sources have told The Daily Beast that the Maryland governor, a War of 1812 aficionado, has placed staffers through the Iowa Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, the umbrella organization that runs field efforts for all the Democratic candidates. That’s in addition to the campaigns of the Democratic nominee for governor, Jack Hatch, and Democratic nominee for secretary of state, Brad Anderson, as previously reported by the Des Moines Register. The staffers are focused on either field efforts or political outreach.

O’Malley, who was the first Democratic presidential hopeful to appear in the Hawkeye State is the only Democrat with staff on the ground in Iowa. He also has sent staffers through his political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to New Hampshire and South Carolina. In Iowa, O’Malley is mirroring former Indiana senator Evan Bayh, who in 2006 sent a number of paid staff to help Hawkeye State Democrats before eventually deciding not to run for president.

The staffers O’Malley has placed will give him a head start if he chooses to run for president. They will be able to identify potential supporters far in advance, as well as build lists of volunteers key to the grassroots organizing necessary in the Iowa caucuses. And deploying staffers allows O’Malley to earn chits with Iowa Democrats and build a reservoir of goodwill that he can use in the future.

“He’s committed to electing Democrats in 2014, and this commitment of staff in Iowa is part of that strategy,” said Lis Smith, a spokesman for O’Malley.

Hillary Clinton will be appearing in Iowa on Saturday, with The New York Times reporting that she is looking like she is planning to run.

Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers on Dick Cheney

“Today The New York Times had to issue a correction after it mistakenly referred to Dick Cheney as a former president. Of course, George W. Bush made that same mistake all the time.” –Seth Meyers

Response To Republican Support For Making Birth Control Pills Available Over The Counter

While Republicans have generally been trying to restrict access to contraception, recently some Republicans have been promoting making oral contraceptives available over the counter without prescription. Many people quickly saw through this. It gives the Republicans a way to claim they are removing a barrier to receiving contraception and avoid situations like the Lobby Hobby case. It also does something else–make contraception less accessible for many women. While the Affordable Car Act requires that contraception be covered without out-of-pocket expense to the woman, many insurance plans do not cover over the counter medications. This is also an incomplete response to the issue as there are many other types of birth control, including forms which many Republicans are attempting to restrict.

The Guttmacher Institute issues a statement regarding this topic (via Talking Points Memo):

Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over the Counter, But That’s No Substitute for Contraceptive Coverage

September 11, 2014

By Adam Sonfield and Sneha Barot, Guttmacher Institute

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC)—though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives—let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

The Policy Behind Over-The Counter Contraception
Making birth control pills available OTC has merit, and the Guttmacher Institute is part of a coalition that has been working toward this goal for years. Leading medical groups have also endorsed such a move, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By removing the need to obtain a prescription, OTC status would eliminate this potential barrier to contraceptive use and thereby increase access.

This is especially true for uninsured women and those who don’t have time for a doctor’s visit or otherwise can’t readily reach a health care provider. However, if the goal is to truly expand access to contraceptive care—and not just provide cover for undercutting insurance coverage for contraceptives—the case to move birth control pills to OTC status should proceed alongside several other important policies and goals:

Protect contraceptive coverage and full method choice: The ACA requires most private health plans to cover the full range of women’s contraceptive methods and services, without out-of-pocket costs for the patient. This policy eliminates cost as a barrier to women’s ability to choose the method that is best for them at any given point in their lives, an approach that has been proven to make a substantial difference in facilitating access to and use of contraceptive services.

Contrary to what some policymakers and commenters have claimed, giving the pill OTC status would not be an effective substitute for the ACA policy. First, it would do nothing to help women access any contraceptive method other than the pill. This matters, since most women use four or more different contraceptive methods over their lifetime to meet their changing needs. If only the pill were available OTC and contraceptives were no longer covered by insurance, women would face significant new barriers in choosing the method that best suited their needs. Cost is a particularly steep barrier for highly effective methods like the IUD or implant that not only have high upfront expenses, but also require a trained provider for insertion and therefore are not candidates for OTC status.

Even for the pill itself, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that moving it to OTC status would substantially lower out-of-pocket costs to patients, let alone come close to the $0 out-of-pocket cost guaranteed under the ACA policy. Rather, making the pill available OTC, if done at the expense of insurance coverage, would replace one barrier (ease of access) with another (cost). Likewise, greater reliance on Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, as some opponents of insurance coverage have proposed, would also merely replace full insurance coverage with patient out-of-pocket costs—leaving most privately insured women, particularly low-income women, worse off. Uninsured women on average pay $370 for a full year’s supply of the pill, the equivalent of 51 hours of work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Millions of women already benefit from the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee and these hard-won gains must be protected. Rather than substituting for contraceptive coverage of all methods and related services, OTC status for birth control pills should complement and enhance such coverage.

Strengthen coverage for over-the-counter methods: While the ACA’s preventive care provision specifically requires private health plans to cover certain products with over-the-counter status (including the emergency contraceptive Plan B, folic acid, aspirin to prevent heart disease and tobacco use cessation products), a prescription is needed for these items to be covered—essentially negating the benefits of OTC status. This prescription requirement should be eliminated for any current and future over-the counter contraceptives. Coverage of over-the-counter products without a prescription is already the norm in some state Medicaid programs and in the U.S. military’s Tricare insurance program. Further, ensuring full coverage for over-the-counter contraceptives would prevent “free-riding” by insurance companies that benefit from not having to cover pregnancies that were averted through patient out-of-pocket expenditures.

Ensure equal access for young women: Adolescents and young women, who face greater risk of unintended pregnancy and more barriers to accessing contraception than older women, have among the most to gain from a switch to OTC status. However, recent calls to give birth control pills OTC status as a substitute for contraceptive coverage have specifically excluded minors. That would require women 17 and younger to obtain a prescription, without providing any medical evidence to justify such restrictions. This approach would be harmful to adolescent women and would be counterproductive to helping them avoid unplanned pregnancies and the negative health, social and economic consequences that often follow.

In addition, excluding minors would likely not result in a true over-the-counter status, but instead could put contraceptive pills behind the counter, much as happened when the emergency contraceptive Plan B was first approved for OTC sales. To comply with an age restriction, stores would have to require proof of age via a valid picture ID from any woman who looks young enough to potentially be barred from purchasing birth control pills without a prescription. This would be an added hurdle for millions of women, and it ignores the reality that many young women do not have government-issued forms of photo ID.

Keep politics out of FDA decision making: To switch any drug to OTC status, the typical process involves the drug’s manufacturer submitting an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which—based on several criteria, including the safety and efficacy profile of the medication—decides whether to grant the request. The evidence is quite strong that providing birth control pills OTC would be safe and effective, including for minors. The FDA process should be driven by the evidence and free from political interference by the administration, Congress and others.

It is troubling but not at all surprising that Senator Ayotte and others who purport to be interested in contraceptive access would preempt the FDA with unfounded calls to bar minors from benefiting from any future OTC status for birth control pills. This echoes the longtime political and legal wrangling over minors’ access to OTC emergency contraceptive pills, despite clear evidence that minors could safely use these products without a prescription.

It is also noteworthy that there are dozens of brands and formulations of birth control pills, most of which would likely have to undergo the lengthy and expensive FDA process to gain OTC status separately. Because formulations of the pill are not medically interchangeable, with some women tolerating specific pills better than others, making one or several versions of the birth control pill available OTC would not benefit all current pill users.

Not A One-Size-Fits-All Policy Solution
Just as birth control methods are not “one size fits all” at any point in a woman’s life, let alone for all of her reproductive years, neither is there a one-size-fits-all policy solution to enhance access to the full range of methods, information and services for women of all ages and income levels, regardless of where they obtain their care. A wide range of approaches is necessary to meaningfully respond to women’s family planning needs in a comprehensive way.

One such approach includes making birth control pills available over-the-counter, if done so without additional costs or barriers to women. Doing so can complement and enhance current efforts to help more women become effective contraceptive users, including the ACA’s significant gains for comprehensive private and public insurance coverage for contraceptive counseling, services and supplies.

If anything, contraceptive coverage should be broadened to cover more women and strengthened to eliminate the prescription requirement for OTC methods that are covered. Other urgent priorities include expanded access to Medicaid, public support for safety-net family planning centers and the Title X national family planning program, comprehensive sex education and the development of new contraceptive technologies.

Truly increasing access to contraceptive care requires a multifaceted approach to meet the needs of all women throughout their reproductive lives. Political talking points will not do it.

This article was originally published on Health Affairs Blog at this link.

Click here for a recent statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supporting over-the-counter access to birth control pills as part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s health care as opposed to a political tool.

Bill Maher Says He Is No Fan Of Hillary, Might Vote For Rand Paul

Bill Maher provides an example of why I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Hillary Clinton. The Hill reports:

“Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.

Maher commented on the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): “As I always used to say about his father, I love half of him. I love the half of him that has the guts to say we should end the American empire, pull the troops home, stop getting involved in every foreign entanglement… He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”When ITK asked if Maher, who donated $1 million to an Obama super PAC in 2012, would be doing the same for a Hillary Clinton PAC, he quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. First of all, I’m not as big a fan of Hillary as I am of Obama. So we’ll see who’s running. I’m not even committing to being for Hillary.”

When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”

Supporting the Pauls on libertarian grounds is a mistake. I’ve looked at Ron Paul’s positions which would lead to less freedom in greater length in the past. However the question is not whether voting for Rand Paul makes sense but whether people will. It is not that I really think that Rand Paul could win a general election, and even his chances at the Republican nomination are questionable. It is also easy to dismiss Bill Maher here because he is often more libertarian than traditional progressive Democrat. This would be a mistake.

What must be considered is the future of Democratic voters. The old New Deal coalition is dead. Today’s Democratic voters include many who primarily support the Democratic Party because of objections to Republican big government–from the Iraq War to intrusions on the private lives of individuals. Millennial voters quite commonly fall into this group. They certainly are not as easy targets for a Rand Paul as some believe, opposing his views on the destruction of the safety net. When Democrats nominate a candidate such as Barack Obama, both Bill Maher and millennials are on board.

Hillary Clinton changes the calculus. Regardless of whether she runs against Paul, a conservative Democratic nominee like Clinton, who is weak on both foreign policy and civil liberties issues, gives little reason for either Bill Maher or millennials to get excited. She will probably still win (although that is far from guaranteed) but many voters will see far less reason to stick with the Democrats long term if they see it as the party of Hillary Clinton. The next presidential election could give Democrats the voters to solidify the support of young voters for years to come, but not under Clinton’s leadership.

The Hill also reports that Clinton supporters are trying to differentiate Clinton from Obama by stressing her decisiveness. It looks like an attempt to turn one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses into a strength, but it won’t convince those who are already concerned about Clinton’s record. As I’ve discussed before, Hillary Clinton has frequently been wrong on the big questions. She was decisive, but wrong. She would ultimately realize the errors she was making, but not until years later. This included the manner in which she botched health care reform, making it impossible for another generation, and her backing military intervention in Iraq based upon her mistaken belief of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Promoting Hillary Clinton as the decisive candidate certainly does not give me reason to be happy about her likely candidacy.

Big Hype For Apple Today

applewatch-32-580-100

There was certainly a lot of ridiculous hype today. Apple had their big announcement that their phone and watch can now do what Android devices could do for months, if not years, as long as you don’t want the freedom to configure things the way you want them to work, as opposed to how Apple thinks your devices should work. They were even doing their own live tweeting of the event, showing what control freaks they are.

There might have been a time when Apple was on the leading edge. Now they are just charging more for old tech which has an Apple logo on it. The Apple watch will start at $349–well more than the cost of my Sony Smartwatch II, even with the more expensive metal wrist band. The only real surprise was that the watch will be called the Apple Watch and not iWatch.

When I first responded to the event on Facebook and Twitter as the news came in, I did get a comment questioning the value of a smartwatch. I’ve been using a smartwatch for over two years and do find it to be of value, but I suspect that the majority of people do have little real need for one.

For me, the smartwatch essentially replaces my beeper. I receive many messages a day on my phone, including Facebook notifications, personal text messages, news bulletins, along with messages from the hospital or answering service which previously went over a pager. I need to both make sure I don’t miss any important messages, and know when an incoming message is important enough to respond to immediately versus letting it sit on the phone.

The smartwatch allows me to very quickly see whether an incoming message is urgent, and is far more discreet to check than pulling out a phone every time it vibrates. In some situations this is especially important, such as in a dark movie theater where it would be awkward to turn on the phone every time a message comes in. It also comes in handy if at the pool. I can put my phone safely in a nearby bag, and pick up messages on my waterproof smartwatch. In the event anyone does see me checking messages, people tend to think it is cool to see a message come in over a watch due to the novelty factor, while it often looks tacky to look at a phone when with other people.

Under some situations I just want to use the watch to monitor for important messages. At other times I can read more. This includes text messages, email, RSS feeds, and any notifications which a smartphone app can make.

Plus my smartwatch has an advantage which the Apple Watch does not–it is connected by blue tooth to an Android phone.

Of course there are many other things it can do. Some try to respond to tweets on their smart watch, but personally I think that if you are actually following an ongoing discussion, and especially if you want to type responses, at that point it makes more sense to just use your watch. (I also prefer to use a blue tooth keyboard if doing very much typing). Fitness apps are popular on Android smartwatches and I’m sure that many will use them on the Apple Watch. Some use their watch for fitness apps which track their foot steps every day but I found a limitation to this. I sometimes take the phone out of my pocket to charge during the day, preventing a complete count. While my LG G3 will generally last all day, I hear bigger fears that the iPhones will not do so, and changing the battery during the day is not an option as on many Android phones.

While certainly not essential, my smartwatch will also tell me the weather and remotely control my phone. I haven’t yet used the apps to remotely see the view screen of the camera or take pictures, but I can see situations where this might come in handy. I do use it to remotely control music sent from my phone to a blue tooth speaker. I have impressed friends over for football games when, after a score, I tap my watch and a speaker across the room starts playing Hail to the Victors. Sadly, for the first time since 1984, there was no opportunity to do this last Saturday.

Update: Reading more about the Apple Phone, it does look like some of the fitness/health capabilities are beyond what is currently available for Android. Of course, by the time the Apple Watch makes it to market, there are likely to be even more advanced Android apps. Plus, trusting your private health information with Apple sounds as sensible as sharing your nude selfies with them. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence.

The Middle Class And The Emerging Democratic Majority

looks at realignment between the parties. For the most part, what he is describing  coincides with topics I have discussed before.

In the past 40 years, the industrial economy has evolved into an information economy. This economic change has transformed the middle and lower classes, culminating in a partisan realignment in the middle class. If there is an ascendant Democratic coalition, it is centered here.

The new information economy is more service oriented, less industrial, and more dependent on the creative use of knowledge and computer technology. Anthony Carnevale and Donna Desrochers and the National Association of Colleges and Employers note that the new economy prizes such skills as critical thinking, problem solving, working in teams and analyzing quantitative data.

This economy is dividing the higher skilled and the lower skilled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the fastest-growing jobs among less-skilled workers will be low-paying occupations such as home health aides and medical secretaries. The fastest-growing jobs among more-skilled workers will be higher-paying occupations such physical therapists, post-secondary health-care teachers, information security analysts and interpreters/translators…

Meanwhile, the political partisanship of the middle class is trending Democratic. Data from the General Social Survey show that, since 2004, the self-identified middle class has moved toward the Democrats (see these charts). These shifts are particularly pronounced among those ages 18-39, men, the college educated, whites and Protestants.

Why would these economic changes push the middle class toward the Democratic Party? Because an increasing number of the middle class are employed in the relatively lucrative knowledge, professional and high-tech sectors, and they benefit from Democratic initiatives in education, alternative energy, scientific research and civil rights. Moreover, younger people, whites and men who have encountered deepening employment challenges profit from Democratic employment initiatives. In addition, a byproduct of increasing educational attainment among these groups is a rising social liberalism, including support for gay rights, legalization of marijuana and women’s reproductive rights.

This is consistent with what we have previously seen, with Republicans having the support of the ultra-wealthy, but relying on low information, working class white males for their votes. These are most swayed by the Republican use of racial fears and xenophobia. Those with more education have generally voted Democratic with some exceptions. While those whose education is in business might be more likely to vote Republican, professionals and those in the knowledge industries have been more likley to vote Democratic.

His conclusion is consistent with these trends but contains one element which many do not consider. The emerging Democratic majority includes middle class white males:

My argument naturally shares some affinities with other proponents of a pro-Democratic realignment, such as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. But I see this realignment as being driven in part by groups not typically considered part of the “rising American electorate” — such as whites and men within the middle class. The emerging Democratic coalition is broader and deeper than many have suggested, and it is less reliant on the support of the poor, urbanites, minorities, women and highest-educated.

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sleepy Hollow; Outlander; Agents of SHIELD; Gracepoint; Blacklist; Arrow; Supergirl; The DC Cinematic Universe; Revenge; How I Met Your Mother Alternate Ending

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Doctor Who‘s third episode of the Capaldi era, Robot of Sherwood, was the lightest of the season. The episode, written by Mark Gatiss, almost seemed to be outside of the continuity of the season, being a story which could be watched at any time and which could easily have happened under Matt Smith or an earlier Doctor. The episode begins with Clara on the TARDIS, showing nothing of her home life, ignoring the recent addition of Danny Pink to the show. There are no scenes of Missy, but there was a brief reference to a space ship searching for the Promised Land.

The episode does have several references to classic Doctor Who. For example, the black and white still of Robin Hood from the TARDIS database is from a 1953 BBC show in which Patrick Troughton played Robin.

Despite the Doctor’s insistence that “I am totally against bantering,” the episode is amusing for its banter between the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood, along with its mocking of the traditional tropes of the action/adventure show. This was best seen in the dungeon scene as the Doctor and Robin discussed their plans to escape. They  included the classics: “get interrogated and turn the tables” and “pretend to be sick so the jailer will come in.” Clara excluded one Doctor Who solution which is utilized too often: “Can you explain your plan without using the words ‘sonic screwdriver'”? For once, an enemy took the sonic screwdriver away.

The Doctor had his own unique answer to the hero who fights but carries no weapon: “I don’t need a sword. Because I am the Doctor. And this is my spoon.” There was also a look at the nature of legends and heroism. Instead of being compared to the Daleks in Into the Dalek, this week the Doctor was compared to Robin Hood, even if it took a while for the Doctor to acknowledge Robin’s”reality” within this universe. We knew from the title that robots were involved, but it was not clear until the end as to who would be real and who would be robots.

Above is the Doctor Who Extra for Robot of Sherwood. While I posted the Doctor Who Extra for Into the Dalek with last week’s review, I initially did not post the video for Deep Breath as initially it was available for view within the U.K. only. Doctor Who Extra has since been made available internationally. The video for Deep Breath can be viewed here.

One scene was cut from the broadcast episode involving a decapitation in response to the recent decapitation of two journalists by ISIS. DoctorWhoTV described the cut scene:

In the original version of the final sword fight, the Sheriff gets the upper hand on Robin disarming him and putting his sword to his neck. Robin looks doomed but the Doctor throws a cloth tapestry over the Sheriff blinding him. Robin picks back up his sword and decapitates the Sheriff. His head rolling across the floor.

Clara congratulates Robin on his apparent victory, but the Sheriff’s severed head suddenly starts talking! He reveals that the skyship fell on him and the knights made him half-robot.

Behind Clara the Sheriff’s body gets back up and puts a sword to her throat ordering the Doctor and Robin to surrender. Robin picks up the Sheriff’s head and throws it back to the Sheriff’s headless body. He puts his head back on. And the fight scene resumes as was shown.

In total about a minute of footage was lost and of course the reveal that the Sheriff was a robot.

Next week’s episode, Listen, sounds much darker, despite reportedly containing Clara and Danny’s first date. The episode is being compared to perhaps Steven Moffat’s greatest episode so far, Blink. Trailer above.

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Sleepy Hollow had poor timing with their National Headless Day promotion, and did not manage to get this canceled before seen as Doctor Who did with its beheading scene. For more mundane promotion, here is the official synopsis of the first episode of season two:

Episode 2.01 – This Is War (22-Sep-2014)
In Sleepy Hollow, it would seem as though the status quo has been restored, but things in the formerly quaint town are never truly as they appear. Even now, how Crane managed to escape being betrayed and buried alive by his son, Jeremy (aka Henry Parish, aka the newly minted Horseman of War), or how Abbie freed herself from Purgatory, remains a mystery… even to them. What appears certain however is that while both Katrina and Jenny have apparently been lost, the Two Witnesses have not abandoned their quest to fight tirelessly against Moloch and his minions. Meanwhile, Moloch’s malevolent forces use all the powers at their disposal in an attempt to locate a key – once belonging to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin – which is capable of unlocking the gates of Purgatory. After using his unique skills on an unanticipated prisoner, Sin-Eater Henry Parish discovers a clue which points him in the direction of the valuable artifact, but Crane is intent on finding it first. While in Purgatory, Moloch works to raise a demonic army in preparation for his invasion, but those who would prevent the hoard’s advent get help from an unexpected source. Meanwhile, we learn that Jenny and Katrina are both still alive, though each is being held prisoner for vastly different reasons, and Crane takes the inadvisable action of re-entering Purgatory in order to fulfill a promise.

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Doctor Who is no longer the only time travel show on Saturdays. Even before Outlander began, critics who received the first six episodes were saying the sixth was by far the best. With the cliff hanger last night,next week’s episode, The Garrison Commander does look like it could be a major episode.

Claire was left with a big decision. She could tell the Red Coats that she was willingly with Dougal and stick with the enemy she knows, knowing she does have Jamie to protect her, or risk the unknown of seeing whether the British would really treat her any better. From the previews it looks like she does wind up with the Red Coats, but that doesn’t explain the situation under which this occurs or what her answer is. The episode also had added interest when Claire understood that Dougal’s motives were more noble than she first thought, but that he and his clan were ultimately doomed. She experienced the  frustration of being a time traveler and being unable to do anything about the future.

ABC has released a synopsis for the second season of Agents of SHIELD:

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” returns for a dynamic, action-packed second season, with newly appointed Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) – now the keeper of the secrets — charged with rebuilding and restoring government and public trust in S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the events of “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” where it was revealed evil Hydra agents had infiltrated the organization. Ever since the existence of super heroes and aliens became public knowledge after the Battle of New York, the world has been trying to come to grips with this new reality. Agent Phil Coulson, who had died at the hands of Loki during the battle, was resuscitated and brought back into action, assembling a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission: to protect those who cannot protect themselves from threats they cannot conceive.

But the biggest threat was growing from within, as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s old enemy, Hydra – a dangerous extremist group Captain America fought against in World War II – had secretly infiltrated and infected the organization at the highest levels. Once revealed to the public, S.H.I.E.L.D., including Coulson and his team, was discredited and made to look like the enemy. The world now views S.H.I.E.L.D. as untrustworthy, and it’s Coulson’s job to change that opinion.

After helping to thwart Hydra, Coulson was appointed as Director and tasked with rebuilding the agency. This won’t be an easy job to accomplish with the majority of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents either killed, secretly working for Hydra or free agents. Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), expert pilot, martial artist and longtime friend, will continue to look after Coulson in the wake of the mysterious etchings he’s been carving into walls. What do these etchings mean, and can Coulson be trusted? Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), highly trained in combat and espionage, was found to be a Hydra mole and a traitor to S.H.I.E.L.D. and locked up away from the world and his former teammates. But this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him… After being left to die in the middle of the ocean by Ward, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), brilliant engineer, and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), genius bio-chemist, found a way to escape their watery grave. But all did not go well for Fitz, who was left in a coma and may never regain his full cognitive functions; a devastating blow to Simmons. And computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet), now a full-fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, discovered her origins as a 0-8-4 — an object of unknown origin – and that her parents were considered “monsters.” Could Skye have darkness lying dormant inside of her? Also joining Coulson’s core team is Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), a dashing mercenary sharp shooter with a quick wit. Since he didn’t rise up through the ranks, does he have an ulterior motive for helping out the team?

Who can Coulson trust?

Fox has released a teaser for Gracepoint, staring David Tennant and Anna Gunn. It just feels like Broachchurch where they got things wrong.

There are some spoilers for season two of The Blacklist here.

Arrow has cast Matt Nable in the role of Ra’s Al Ghul. Thea will also have a new love interest.

Supergirl might be the next DC character to get her own television series.

The Nerdist has a look at what is known about the planned DC cinematic universe which follow Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. Future movies include the Justice League of America, Shazam, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. AV Club has more on Shazam on how it will differ from other DC movies.

There’s further talk about a movie version of 24.

Syfy is planning a six part miniseries adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. If done well, this could be one of the network’s greatest features to date.

Revenge tried to drag out the storyline from its first season way too long, and it looks like they are making the right decision in changing the show around. BuddyTV has some spoilers as to what will change next season:

With David Clarke’s name cleared, will Emily’s quest for revenge be over? Conrad was imprisoned and is now presumably dead and the great Victoria Grayson has been left to rot in a mental institution. Plus, Emily’s father is actually alive!

That will be an awkward reunion. Emily went against her father’s wishes and left the sweet Amanda Clarke behind and became a ruthless killer instead. Her life will be turned upside-down with the news.

Executive Producer Gretchen J. Berg teased, “The drive of season four will be Emily discovering who Amanda Clarke is and Emily figuring out her new life with her father in it. I don’t want to say when she’s going to discover that, but that’s going to be our arc for the season.”

In addition to Emily unraveling her true identity, it looks like she’ll have to contend with being the target of someone else’s revenge. The tides have turned!

Victoria does the voice over for the first Revenge Season 4 Trailer, “My name is Victoria Grayson and I have a story to tell. Over the past three years my family was destroyed, the love of my life murdered, my freedom taken away. When everything you love has been stolen from you, someone has to pay. Emily Thorne, I’m coming for you.”

…When we last saw Jack, he was being arrested for Charlotte’s kidnapping. He’ll take the cuffs off and become the one putting them on others when he becomes a cop. Yes, Jack likely will be donning a uniform!

What will happen when Emily and Victoria find out David’s alive? Executive Producer Aaron Harberts told EOnline, “He may not be the most emotionally and psychologically stable and if Victoria is the first person to get to David, she might be in control of that guy, which sort of presents her power running through the season,”

Copies of the promised alternate ending to How I Met Your Mother have been appearing on line but have been taken down. I don’t know how long it will be here, but at the time of posting I have found the above video of the entire final episode, with alternate ending to the finale starting around 37 minutes in. The options are somewhat limited as it can only contain what was already filmed, but it does have new narration from Bob Saget. While the alternate ending therefore could not show any new scenes of Ted and Tracy in the future, it was still a far better ending for the series than the one that aired.

As I discussed in my review of the finale, the ending made sense when first filmed early in the series run, but no longer made sense from where the show ultimately wound up. Viewers had too much invested in Tracy in the final season to just see her quickly die. Having Ted and Robin ultimately get together was the obvious ending during the first season, but it no longer made sense to have Robin and Barney break up for this to occur after spending so much time making this implausible relationship make sense, and spending the entire final season at their wedding.

While we were denied more scenes of Ted and Tracy leading up to the moment when Ted was telling the story to his children, there remains the opportunity to see Cristin Miloti alive, but in a different relationship, on the upcoming sit-com, A to Z. The pilot has been released for early viewing.

Appeals Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban In Wisconsin and Indiana

On Thursday Judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote the decision after the The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago  stuck down the bans against same sex marriage in Wisconsin and Indiana.There were a number of arguments in his decision which were interesting to read, and which might have an impact when this issue inevitably reaches the Supreme Court. The Dish collected some selections. First, via Slog:

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight-forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously. To the extent that children are better off in families in which the parents are married, they are better off whether they are raised by their biological parents or by adoptive parents. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny…

The harm to homosexuals (and, as we’ll emphasize, to their adopted children) of being denied the right to marry is considerable. Marriage confers respectability on a sexual relationship; to exclude a couple from marriage is thus to deny it a coveted status. Because homosexuality is not a voluntary condition and homosexuals are among the most stigmatized, misunderstood, and discriminated-against minorities in the history of the world, the disparagement of their sexual orientation, implicit in the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, is a source of continuing pain to the homosexual community. Not that allowing same-sex marriage will change in the short run the negative views that many Americans hold of same-sex marriage. But it will enhance the status of these marriages in the eyes of other Americans, and in the long run it may convert some of the opponents of such marriage by demonstrating that homosexual married couples are in essential respects, notably in the care of their adopted children, like other married couples.

Rob Tisinai quoted an argument to debunk the  “responsible procreation argument” which he first explained: “that the purpose of marriage is to encourage responsible procreation, and because only straight couples can accidentally procreate, only straight couples need the bond of marriage to keep them together and set up a home for the kids. Gay couples, who only have kids on purpose, don’t need any such prodding.” From Posner’s decision:

Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.

Another Survey Shows Decrease In Obamacare Insurance Premiums For 2015

There is yet more good news on the Affordable Care Act. Rather than the “death spiral” which so many Republicans warned about, yet another study shows an average decline in health insurance premiums next year:

An early look at the cost of health insurance in 16 major cities finds that average premiums for the benchmark silver plan – the one upon which federal financial help under the Affordable Care Act to consumers is based – will decrease slightly in 2015.  The new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzes premiums in the largest cities in 15 states and the District of Columbia where information from rate filings is available.

Premiums for the second-lowest cost silver plan for individuals will fall by an average of 0.8 percent from current levels in these cities when open enrollment begins on Nov. 15, according to the study. The analysis finds that the premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan is decreasing in 7 of the 16 areas studied – but also that changes in average premiums will vary considerably across areas. They range from a decline of 15.6 percent in Denver, Colorado (to $211 per month), to an increase of 8.7 percent in Nashville, Tennessee (to $205 per month). In both cases premiums are for a 40-year-old nonsmoker, before taking into account any tax credit.  It is important to note that rate changes may be different in different rating areas in these states.

This is certainly a huge improvement over the double digit increases we typically had on insurance purchased on the individual market. Plus the new plans, as opposed to many previous plans sold, provide real, comprehensive coverage. Unlike any previous plans, they are available to anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions, and cannot be cancelled due to changes in health.

Incidentally, yesterday I also received details on the insurance I purchase to cover my employees which is being improved to become fully compliant with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. It will cost me an additional $15 a month per employee. Of course for some reason I occasionally receive claims from Republican business owners that they are going to be forced out of business due to the higher cost of health insurance. I suspect that many American Republicans, due to their lack of understanding of how the economy works, and tenuous relationship with reality, are the worst businessmen on earth.

There is one caution in the news about a decrease in the premiums for the benchmark plans. These are used to determine government subsidies. The lower premiums mean that the government will have to pay less on subsidies than planned. However if people receiving subsidies fail to shop around, they are at risk of receiving lower subsidies than this year if they do not have a policy which matches the lower premiums.