SciFi Friday: Plans for the Future

Normally at this time of year we hear about the fate of shows being renewed or cancelled for the current season, but this year we are getting more significant news on the fates of two shows that are returning. End dates for both Lost and Battlestar Galactica have been announced. Lost will return for three sixteen episode seasons, while Battlestar Galactica will end after next season.

I am very happy to see these dates set in advance. Shows with ongoing mysteries have historically run into problems when the end date was not clear. X-Files dragged out the alien mythology plot beyond the point where it made much sense. Babylon 5 wrapped up the war a year before the end, and then didn’t have a good idea as to what to do with the final season. By knowing exactly how many episodes they have left, the writers of Lost and BSG can pace out how their continuing stories play out. BSG had the problem that they were searching for Earth, but everyone knew they could not find it while the series was running. Now that the season ends next year, they can actually reach Earth if that is what the writers desire, but viewers cannot be certain as to what will happen.

The decision to only air sixteen episodes of Lost per year has met with some controversy. I have conflicting interests on this one. As a Disney stockholder, I support the idea of the network receiving income from the show for an additional year. As a fan I have mixed emotions. If having less episodes can result in greater quality, then I am for it. While there are many other factors which result in the greater quality of shows on HBO and the BBC over the major American networks, not being stuck in the twenty-two or so episodes per year format may one of their advantages. While some Lost fans are complaining on line of having to stick it out for three years to get a normal two years worth of shows, Soprano fans sure won’t feel very sorry for them.

This week’s episode of Lost answered some questions and left many others open. Big questions are why Ben wound up the leader of the island’s “original inhabitants,” their connection to the outside world, and whether having the opening scene occur near Portland is coincidence. Is there more going on between DHARMA and the phoney location of where Juliette was first recruited to work? Speaking of Juliette, it looks like I was wrong in mistrusting her, but was right in predicting things would not turn out well for Locke by hanging around The Others. I doubt that Locke is really dead as the conflict between his and Jack’s philosophies seems to be too central to the show. Locke must return to face Jack. I wouldn’t be surprised if they really do kill Charlie off. His major role now seems to be his role in Desmond’s predictions of his death. This cannot continue forever. Either they have to find something else for Charlie to do, or actually kill him.

Kattee Sackhoff has other work lined up besides Battlestar Galactica. She will costar with Michelle Ryan in the reimagined remake of The Bionic Woman. Sackhoff says she will have a different type of role than Starbuck:

“My biggest fear was that Sarah Corvus was going to turn out like Starbuck. But she didn’t. She turned out a little like Number Six [laughs]. She’s the femme fatale. She’s dangerous. She’s sexy. She knows it, and she uses it. She walks with a purpose, and Starbuck really doesn’t. It’s … two different sides of the coin, but both misunderstood.”

While unofficial, the word is that Jericho will be back. They gave a strong indication of how the cliff hander will be resolved as the military is preparing to break up the war with New Bern, thanks to Heather, who is very much still alive. This leaves questions as to the fate of Hawkins, and the status of those behind this military force.

The surprise of the episode was the death of Johnston Green. I don’t think anyone saw this coming, considering how important Green was to the town, and the show. Perhaps the thought was that a strong central character such as Green was necessary to get the show established, but now we know enough about the other characters for them to continue to drive the story.

Another puzzle was the revised American flag. Maybe it was done more for the effect on viewers (as well as Heather) than for any logical reason. Any force trying to establish itself as the legitimate government of the United States would want to stick with the conventional flag. The new flag, complete with vertical stripes and only about half the stars, points out to viewers that this isn’t the United States government we know, but that isn’t something they would want surviving Americans to realize. Perhaps there is another force which is still using the conventional flag which will make an appearance at a later date.

Doctor Who will not be on the BBC this weekend, with the scheduled episode postponed until next week. It will hardly seem like Saturday night if I’m not hunting down a torrent with sufficient seeds to get the week’s episode by morning.
Superman Returns led the Saturn Awards, with both Battlestar Galactica and Heroes being able to win as best television series due to the nature of the categories. Some of the major winners include:

Best Science Fiction Film: Children of Men

Best Fantasy Film: Superman Returns

Best Horror Film: The Descent

Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film: Casino Royale

Best Animated Film: Cars

Best International Film: Pan’s Labyrinth

Best Actor: Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta)

Best Network Television Series: Heroes

Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series: Battlestar Galactica

Gilmore Girls: Unto the Breach
The major televison event beyond SF was Rory Gilmore’s graduation from Yale, and the end of her relationship with Logan. Beyond that, Rory’s plans remain unclear. TV Guide has one of the best reports on the ending of Gilmore Girls with an interview with Lauren Graham.

With most shows ending for the season, there are a few to look forward to. Big Love returns on June 11, perhaps with increased interest in Mormonism in light of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. HBO On Demand will also have three prequel episodes starting on May 28 showing events prior to season one.

Cherry Picking Health Care Data

When health care in the United States is compared to the care in other modern societies, the general rule of thumb is that the United States leads the world in subspecialty care provided, but lags behind in more routine care. The United States does a great job of performing coronary artery bypass grafts, but does not do as good a job as the Europeans in treating the risk factors which lead to heart disease. The conservative blogosphere, showing its typical tendency to cherry pick facts to support their ideology while ignoring the big picture, is latching on to a study today to attack Democratic health care proposals.

Ed Morrissey and  McQ quote this article from The Telegraph which shows that cancer patients in the United States have earlier access to a specific drug. They twist this to suggest that this single parameter can be used to meaningfully compare the health care systems in the United States and Europe. I’m certain that there are many other parameters in which the United States beats Europe in such subspecialty care–but such subspecialty care has never been what the complaints about American health care have centered on.

Starting with colon cancer, it would be more interesting to compare the number of people who have access to colonoscopies and other cancer screening. The United States would be at a tremendous disadvantage with 45 million uninsured and many more under insured. This leads to another consequence of hour health care system. Many people do get the subspecialty care they need, but are forced to go into bankruptcy to pay for it–often when they already have health insurence.

The goal of reforming the health care system is duplicate the benefits from the best of the systems of other countries while avoiding  the problems noted in articles such as this. Conservatives are great at cherry picking facts and finding reasons why we cannot change for the better. Liberals are necessary to find ways to make necessary improvements.

John Kerry on The Heroism of Youk Chhang

Last week I noted the controversy over the Time 100. These are not really “the most influential people in the world” as claimed on the cover, but many are worth reading about. I almost missed the fact that one of the profiles was written by John Kerry until I received an email from his office this morning alerting me of the article. John Kerry, who helped form the United Nation’s tribunal on genocide in Cambodia, wrote about Youk Chhang:, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

“Cambodia is like broken glass,” says Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. “Without justice, we cannot put the pieces together.” Putting the pieces together is the mission of the man who made himself the keeper of Cambodia’s darkest memories.

Standing up to powerful forces that feared reopening the past, Chhang has documented the three years, eight months and 20 days of cruelty that claimed the lives of 1.7 million Cambodians under Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge. Six hundred thousand pages of documents, maps of 20,000 mass graves and 4,000 transcribed interviews with former Khmer Rouge soldiers are testimony to Chhang’s conviction that there is no future without making peace with the past. They will provide the evidence at a long-delayed tribunal on the genocide, which it is hoped will finally start this year.

Confronting painful history is never easy. But for Chhang, 46, it is personal. Under Pol Pot, his sister was accused of stealing rice. A soldier slashed open her stomach to prove her guilt. Her stomach was empty. She died a slow and horrible death. This is one of the unspeakable acts that have gone not only unpunished but unexplained.

The tribunal will allow the world to hear the architects of these crimes speak about why they inflicted such suffering. In pain revisited, there will be a chance for a nation’s healing�and in Youk Chhang, a hero confronting the past’s villains.

Hillary Clinton and the Blogosphere

None of this will be new to those who follow the blogs, but The Politico is running a story on Hillary Clinton’s lack of support in the blogosphere.

Much of the bloggers’ ire is directed at Clinton’s nuanced Iraq policy – from her initial support for the war to her hesitancy in moving away from that position. Even her condemnation of President Bush’s surge proposal, and her calls for troop redeployment, have been derided as “late to the party.”

But such criticism is actually a window into an even broader critique of New York’s junior senator. Many in the blog community view Clinton as overly strategic, and even insincere, in her political maneuvering.
“To most bloggers, authenticity is an important criterion. There is an allergic reaction to hypercautious politicians,” The Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington wrote in an e-mail. “Hillary Clinton’s problem with the blogosphere is that she has been so calculating that you can smell it. Every thought has been processed through multiple channels in her and her consultants’ brains. It’s so fabricated.”

Exacerbating this criticism is Clinton’s standing as an inside-the-Beltway politician. Her employment of high-profile consultants such as pollster Mark Penn has drawn the condemnation of the blog community that sees this as the root cause of her cautious politicking. Most bloggers shun the label “anti-establishment.” But many blame the D.C.-insider, consultant-based method of campaigning that Clinton is utilizing for the Democrats’ (recently ended) political dry spell.

What effect opinions like these will have on the primary or general elections is unclear. In an April 2007 Daily Kos poll, Clinton received only 3 percent of the site users’ support. And yet, a Cook/RT Strategies national poll around the same time had her winning 36 percent of the potential Democratic vote.

Even veterans of online politics caution against overvaluing the blogosphere’s significance. “Candidates have been obsessing about bloggers and ignoring their base,” said Zack Exley, director of online organizing and communications for the 2004 John Kerry campaign. “The candidates need to make a direct connection with their base and turn that base on and get the $100 million.”

Clinton has made her share of plays for blogosphere support. She hired as her blog adviser Peter Daou, who in 2004 was the Kerry presidential campaign’s director of online response and blog outreach. She also brought onboard Jesse Berney, a prominent liberal blogger who worked for four years at the Democratic National Committee writing and editing Web and e-mail content.

“I think the blog community is a tremendous addition to American politics and an important part of the political process,” Daou said in an interview, after declining to discuss the campaign’s online strategy. “There is a wide range of opinion in the blog community, and sometimes they will agree on some issues with Sen. Clinton and sometimes they will disagree. The beauty of the medium is that there is a diversity of opinion.”

The Kerry campaign in 2004 showed that polls of bloggers are not representative of pirmary voters, and not predictive of the results. While this article does capture much of the criticism of Clinton among bloggers, the  question of authenticity is not so clear. Many bloggers are willing to overlook similar opportunism from John Edwards as long as he has a big smile and adopts many of the views which are popular in the blogosphere.