SciFi Friday: Human Nature and The Dark Side

SciFi Friday is a weekly feature at Liberal Values which primarily looks at science fiction television, but sometimes deals with just science fiction and sometimes with just television. Some weeks I look at whatever news there is during the week, and some weeks, like Ira Glass, I have a theme. This week’s theme is human nature and the dark side in four acts, looking at Doctor Who, The Sopranos, Jericho, and Heroes. So far this season I have been vague in discussing Doctor Who for the benefit of those who might not watch it until the U.S. run this summer as opposed to downloading episodes. This week I must issue a Spoiler Alert and caution those who plan to watch later not to read this section. The comments on the other three shows also contain spoilers if anyone has not seen the most recent episodes.

The two part story on Doctor Who, Human Nature and Family of Blood, is considered by many reviewers to be among the best episodes ever. The story, based upon a 1995 novel, reminds me of one of the greatest episodes of Star Trek. As with this story, The City on the Edge of Forever, written by science fiction author Harlan Ellsion, broke from the usual series format. While the stories are totally different, both have the lead character travel back in time to become involved in a romance. In each case there is a reason that the romance cannot continue, and both stories are influenced by a world war to come. The original Doctor Who novel of Human Nature is available for download here.

In Human Nature, The Doctor faces a powerful enemy who can track down its victim anywhere in space and time. Next we see The Doctor appearing to be unaware of his identity, working as a teacher at an English school just prior to World War I under his occasionally used identity of John Smith. Martha Jones is working there, and ultimately we find that she is aware of the situation and is watching over The Doctor.

The story is gradually explained in flash backs. The Doctor became human to make it difficult for The Family, who is searching for a Time Lord, to track him down. Martha has been left a set of instructions, and a way to return the Doctor’s memory of being a Time Lord in case they were found. Later the strategy becomes clearer as we find that The Family only has a limited life span, but if they find a Time Lord before dying they could become immortal and terrorize the universe forever. Once The Family died, Martha could restore The Doctor, whose memory was contained in what appeared to be an old watch.

There was a problem in the instructions left for Martha which The Doctor did not envision. He fell in love with a school nurse, much to the distress of Martha who is herself in love with The Doctor. There is another complication as John Smith sees the restoration of his identity as The Doctor being the equivalent to his death and initially resists this. This is made even more difficult when he is given a vision of living a long life as a human married to the nurse he fell in love with if he remains as Mr. Smith.

This story allows us to learn more about The Doctor as we literally see his human side. In the past, The Doctor has mentioned a desire to settle down and live a normal life, but we know that is impossible for him. The Doctor has also alluded to the need for human companions to help contain his dark side, and this also comes out in this story.

For a moment we are given the impression that Mr. Smith has decided to remain human when he goes to The Family’s ship and appears to surrender the essence of his self as a Time Lord which is contained in the watch. It turns out to be a trick as the watch is a fake and The Doctor uses this distraction to tamper with controls on their ship. Martha, acting as narrator, explains what happens next:

“He’s like fire, and ice, and rage. He’s like the night and the storm and the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”

The Doctor gives The Family the immortality they desired, but his dark side comes out as they are granted an immortality consisting of various forms of eternal imprisonment. Someday you may see signs of this in any mirror.

The Doctor returns to see the nurse who fell in love with John Smith. He offers to have her join him as another companion, but it is John Smith, and not The Doctor who she is in love with. It is as if Lois Lane rejected Superman if she couldn’t have Clark Kent. The Doctor, when asked, did say he could become John Smith again, but he would not. He will remain The Doctor, even if it means never again experiencing human love.

Tony Soprano is also becoming increasingly alone. Recently he killed Christopher, and it has become more clear than ever than his son will never be able to take over for him. Others high in his organization are being killed as the long simmering war between the New Jersey and New York mobs becomes hot. But that’s the dark side, which is not the whole story to The Sopranos.

The Sopranos were in many ways a normal human family. We saw the effects of Tony’s relations with his family. We saw him put his mother in a nursing home before her death, and we saw him taking his daughter Meadow to look at colleges. It was just a typical suburban family, except for his job. Last year, after Tony was shot, he even had dreams while unconscious of being a normal salesman, similar to The Doctor’s temporary life as a human.

Tony was troubled by his life, and the first episode began with him seeing a psychiatrist. Dr. Melfi’s role in the series probably ended last week as she dismissed Tony as a patient, realizing that her talks with him were just allowing him to justify his sociopathic actions and become a better gangster. This does raise questions as to whether she was right to drop him like this, or whether she should still have helped him with his personal problems as much as she could. It also isn’t certain if it was the literature on sociopaths which made Dr. Melfi make this decision or whether it was really the disapproval of her peers which led to this decision.

Tony’s apparently normal life in the suburbs came to at least a temporary end last week with Phil Leotardo of the New York mob deciding to go after Tony, forcing him into hiding. It is hard to see this ending without the death of one of them. If Tony does survive his organization will have been seriously damaged, but he will still have his family. That might be a fitting end for the series as it mirrors the decline of the mob in the United States.

Jericho began with a city which survived after much of the country was destroyed by nuclear bombs set off by terrorists. The first portion of the series was primarily about normal humans coping with the situation. Gradually we saw the dark side as they faced threats from out of town. The season ended with a cliff hanger in which a neighboring town was attacking them. We were left with hope as one character convinced what remained of the United States army to intervene, but we are not sure if this is for the best. This remnant of the army is led by the former director of homeland security who appears to have been involved in the terrorist plot. We are reminded that this is not the United States government we know when we see their flag with vertical stripes.

This was an excellent cliff hanger, but turned out to be the series finale as the show was cancelled. During the episode, the people of Jericho responded to an ultimatum to surrender with the message “nuts.” Fans of Jericho took up this message and sent 50.000 pounds of nuts in protest. CBS gave in with this announcement. They have agreed to produce seven episodes at mid-season next year, but are calling on fans to bring in more viewers if there are to be more. To facilitate new fans picking up the series, they will continue to stream them on line, rerun the series over the summer, and release the DVD of the first season in September.

Heroes was far more successful than Jericho and its renewal was not in doubt. Heroes dealt with humans with superpowers, but despite their powers they were still governed by human nature. Some were good, and some were controlled by their dark side. As with many people, the nature of some was in between. Claire’s father first appeared to be evil, but in the end this was far more complex. Nathan was gradually made to appear evil, but ultimately he was instrumental in saving New York from the explosion

I had wondered why it was necessary for Nathan to fly Peter above the city to prevent its destruction when Peter exploded. Peter could take on Nathan’s power to fly and could have done this on his own. Series creator Tim Kring told TV Guide, “You know, theoretically you’re not supposed to be thinking about that.” When told that viewers were thinking about this, Kring provided more of an answer:

When assured that viewers are, Kring confirms that — as many have theorized — radioactive Peter’s other powers were “incapacitated” at that pivotal moment, and “somewhere in there is the explanation” for having Nathan grab his bro and do the “flying man!” thing. “But the real explanation is that we wanted Nathan to show up and [save the day]!”

“Yes, I will admit that there’s a very tiny window of logic there,” Kring continues with a laugh. “But what can I say? It’s requires the proverbial suspension of disbelief.” Which, when airing opposite 24, a season finale is certainly allowed.

It is a little too convenient for a key power to become “incapacitated” at such a pivital moment. Similarly, characters with the needed powers often popped up just as needed. Such holes in the story line made the season finale a bit disappointing, but it was such a fun ride to get there that this might be forgiven.

Paris is Burning

A day after being released from jail, Paris Hilton has been sent back as she was taken out of court screaming. I bet this means a repeat of her full body cavity searches of areas most of the world has already seen pictures of. As much as we try to ignore her story, I fear we’ll always have Paris.

Fact Checking the Republicans II: Romney Rewrites History on Iraq Inspections found a number of errors during the last Republican debate, with this being the second post in which I’m quoteing them as verifying posts I’ve written since the debate. Romney has rewritten history with regards to the weapons inspections prior to the war:
Romney Rewrites History

Romney tried to pin the blame for the Iraq war on Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow weapons inspections.

Romney: [I]f you’re saying let’s turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in.

Romney is not alone in playing loose with the facts about weapons inspections. On at least three occasions, President Bush has made the same claim. The first, on July 14, 2003:

Bush: The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.

A few months later, Bush reiterated the claim. And on the third anniversary of the war, he said:

Bush: [W]e worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.

That the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency was not permitted to make inspections might come as a bit of a surprise to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, who reported on March 17, 2003, that “late last night…I was advised by the United States government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad.” Inspectors had been in Iraq since November 2002. They remained until U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered their evacuation on March 17, 2003, just three days before U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq.

Fact Checking the Republicans I: Socialized Medicine found a number of incorrect statements in the Republicans debates, but the most significant two are those I have concentrated on criticizing. The first of these is health care. They debunk statements from Null Set Romney, but the same corrections would apply to Rudy Giuliani’s claims about Democrats supporting socialized medicine:

Health Plan Hoodoo

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney tried to distance his state’s universal health insurance plan from the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Romney: Every Democrat up there’s talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase…. I’m the guy who actually tackled this issue. We get all of our citizens insured. We get people that were uninsured with private health insurance. We have to stand up and say the market works. Personal responsibility works.

There are two problems with Romney’s characterization: One, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to propose a single-payer, wholly government-funded health care plan. And two, Romney’s Massachusetts universal insurance system bears a striking resemblance to the health care proposals of the Democratic front-runners.

We first took a look at the Romney-backed health insurance plan after the May 3 Republican presidential debate, when the candidate said it was not a government takeover and juxtaposed his plan with “HillaryCare.” We pointed out that while the plan is not government-administered health insurance, it includes government mandates and subsidies, minimum coverage requirements and fines for noncompliance. The Massachusetts plan is clearly not a complete government takeover; it builds on the private insurance industry – as do the proposals of Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, and the health care initiative spearheaded by Hillary Clinton in the early ’90s.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University, has analyzed the costs of the Edwards and Obama plans. In reading those and the Massachusetts plans, the similarities are clear, and Thorpe says the Obama and Romney plans are “virtually identical.” Both call for an insurance exchange (an entity that would offer various private insurance plans to the public), and they offer financial assistance to low-income people. Edwards’ proposal differs in that he uses health care plans in the federal employee program, rather than a national exchange. “That’s an implementation difference,” says Thorpe. “The real important part of it, they’re both building on the private insurance industry.”

Sen. Clinton has not released a formal proposal, but when she does, it’s highly unlikely to be a wholly government funded proposal.

Politicians will debate how much government involvement in health insurance regulation is acceptable and how much is stepping on the toes of private insurance companies. But in our view, the term “government takeover” could only be applied to Rep. Kucinich’s proposal. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel calls for a federal voucher program, but Kucinich, in fact, brags on his Web site that he’s the only candidate advocating a universal not-for-profit health care system.

Factcheck makes a misleading statement of their own. Dennis Kucinich’s plan for a single payer plan might be called a “government takeover” of the insurance industry, but not of health care delivery. The closest analogy to his system would be Medicare, as opposed to a British-style government run system. Although payment would come from the government, we would still preserve our system of private medical practices. Critics of such plans do have a valid argument that if the government pays the bills they will have control. While there is some truth to this, the reality of our current system is that Medicare does far less to attempt to micromanage what physicians do than many private insurances do.

While Republicans raise scare stories of socialized medicine, it is really the Republicans who support increased government intrusion in health care decisions. It is the Republicans who wish to intervene in a woman’s right to an abortion as well as restrict access to Plan B and to birth control. It is the Republicans who harass physicians who prescribe narcotics to treat chronic pain, and who fight to prevent the use of medicinal marijuana. It was the Republicans who got the government involved in end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case. It was a Republican President who devised the current Medicare D plan which is primarily a monetary reward to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their huge contributions.

Related Story: Fact Checking the Republicans II: Romney Rewrites History on Iraq Inspections

Chris Matthews, Rudy Giuliani, and the F-Word


Chris Matthews has used the f-word (in this case, fascism) in relation to Rudy Giuliani more than once. On February 7, appearing on Imus, he used it in an almost approving manner as he said that Giuliani makes voters feel safer. “I think the country wants a boss like that, you know? A little bit of fascism there. Just a little bit. Just a pinch of it.”

As seen in the above clip, Matthews is beginning to realize that Giuliani’s statements on terrorism actually help al Qaeda and worsen the problem. Matthews warns about responding in an “almost fascist manner” in response to terrorism, and in looking at Giuliani’s statements argues that, “In a wierd way, he helps the bad guys.”

Andrew Sullivan is someone who might be expected to support a socially liberal conservative such as Guiliani. Despite his support for gay rights, Sullivan realizes that Giuliani is dangerous. Andrew Sullivan writes:

Chris Matthews gets Rudy right. Giuliani has no understanding of what it is we’re fighting for in this war. Given his crude 9/12 analysis of the terror war, I don’t even think he understands what we’re fighting against. His candidacy speaks to the worst part of us: fear, loathing, and an instinctual belief that freedom is a threat to us, rather than the core of us.

I agree with Sullivan’s general assessment of Giuliani’s demagoguery on terrorism, but am not certain whether Giuliani “understands what we’re fighting against.” Giuliani might understand the nature of the terrorist threat, but still prefer to follow the Bush route of using it to play politics, regardless of how much harm he does to the country. Sullivan might think in terms of fighting terrorism, but Giuliani is fighting for his own personal power. Authoritarian leaders such as Bush and Giuliani need an enemy to maintain fear and promote their power, and therefore we have a bizarre co-dependency built up between these Republicans and al Qaeda.

War Czar Nominee Reports Surge Failing; CIA Report Verifies That US Is Creating More Terrorists Than It Can Kill

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, George Bush’s choice to be war czar, admits that things are not going well:

President Bush’s nominee to be war czar said yesterday that conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly despite the influx of U.S. troops in recent months and predicted that, absent major political reform, violence will continue to rage over the next year.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions “have shown so far very little progress” toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, “we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation” a year from now.

Lute’s dour assessment mirrored the views of U.S. intelligence officials, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session last month that trends in Iraq remain negative and that the prospect for political movement by the nation’s feuding Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds appears marginal. The secret intelligence conclusions were disclosed during yesterday’s hearing by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and confirmed by a Republican official.

The conclusions largely tracked the findings of the last National Intelligence Estimate, released in January, before Bush announced his decision to send nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq, suggesting that the intelligence community does not think the force buildup has changed the outlook nearly five months later. Bayh quoted a CIA expert on radical Islam as saying that “our presence in Iraq is creating more members of al-Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq,” though it was unclear whether that came during the May 24 briefing.

If “our presence in Iraq is creating more members of al-Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq,” it sounds like the best response, considering the “war on terror,” would be to get out of Iraq. At least Bush’s nominee acknowledges that the surge has failed. Hopefully he can convince his new boss that we can longer afford to “stay the course.”

Democrats May Subpoena Documents on NSA Domestic Wiretaps

The Democrats were placed in control of Congress last fall by those of us who wanted to see an end to the war, and to see the Bush administration held accountable for its violations of the law and the Constitution. So far we’ve been disappointed. The Democrats capitulated on financing the war, but there remains hope of a different outcome in September. Some investigations are under way, and some pre-war intelligence demonstrating that Bush ignored warnings of the inevitable outcome in Iraq were released, but we still await further investigations into Bush’s misleading of Congress and the country to get us into the war. In the latest attempts to investigate the actions of the Bush administration, The New York Times reports plans that Democrats may subpoena documents related to the NSA warrantless wiretaps:

Senior House Democrats threatened Thursday to issue subpoenas to obtain secret legal opinions and other documents from the Justice Department related to the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program.

If the Democrats take that step, it would mark the most aggressive action yet by Congress in its oversight of the wiretapping program and could set the stage for a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers.

The subpoena threat came after a senior Justice Department official told a House judiciary subcommittee on Thursday that the department would not turn over the documents because of their confidential nature. But the official, Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, did not assert executive privilege during the hearing.

The potential confrontation over the documents comes in the wake of gripping Senate testimony last month by a former deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who described a confrontation in March 2004 between Justice Department and White House officials over the wiretapping program that took place in the hospital room of John Ashcroft, then attorney general. Mr. Comey’s testimony, disclosing the sharp disagreements in the Bush administration over the legality of some N.S.A. activities, has increased Congressional interest in scrutinizing the program.

At the same time, the Bush administration is seeking new legislation to expand its wiretapping powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have argued that they do not want to vote on the issue without first seeing the administration’s legal opinions on the wiretapping program.

“How can we begin to consider FISA legislation when we don’t know what they are doing?” asked Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who heads the subcommittee.

Obama and Dodd Speak Out Against Surgeon General Nominee

James Holsinger, nominated by George Bush to be Surgeon General, has described homosexuality as “an issue not of orientation but of lifestyle” and sees homosexuality as something which can be cured. Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network of United Methodists, has described his work as torture of gays and lesbians and considers his therapy to be medical malpractice:

For the last 20 years, James Holsinger has been the worst kind of bully inside the United Methodist Church. As a member of a sexuality study team in 1991, he used his position as a medical doctor to promote skewed and inaccurate information regarding gay men. As the chair of the Judicial Council, the ‘supreme court’ of the United Methodist Church, he has used his power to disregard the Constitution of the Methodist Church and block from membership faithful gay and lesbian Christians. As a pastor, he has promoted ‘reparative therapy’ — a practice that is nothing short of torture of gay and lesbian people and is not condoned by any professional psychological association; in fact, many call it medical malpractice.

Two of the Democratic candidates have released statements about this nomination. Barack Obama was the first to release a statement:

“America’s top doctor should be a doctor for all Americans, and so I have serious reservations about nominating someone who would inject his own anti-gay ideology into critical decisions about the health and well-being of our nation. As with other nominees, I will listen to the testimony of Dr. James Holsinger, but this Administration must know that the United States Surgeon General’s office is no place for bigotry or ideology that would trump sound science and good judgment.”

Christopher Dodd released the following statement:

“The nomination of James Holsinger demonstrates yet again how this Administration puts politics above the health and well-being of our nation’s citizens. I fear that Dr. Holsinger’s previous comments and actions will prevent him from representing each and every individual – the job of the Surgeon General. The upcoming nomination hearing process will be an opportunity to formally place Dr. Holsinger’s views on the record. The Bush Administration should use the position of the Surgeon General to improve and promote the Nation’s public health not to polarize it.”

Paul Krugman on the Debates

Paul Krugman is concerned about the lack of fact checking by the media after the debates. “Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.” The media cared more about Huckabee’s less significant error than Romney’s:

Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

This reminds Krugman of a debate between George Bush and Al Gore:

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.

Krugman didn’t find any errors as serious in the Democratic debate, but:

Still, someone should have called Hillary Clinton on her declaration that on health care, “we’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” While the other two leading candidates have come out with plans for universal (John Edwards) or near-universal (Barack Obama) health coverage, Mrs. Clinton has so far evaded the issue. But again, this went unmentioned in most reports.

By the way, one reason I want health care specifics from Mrs. Clinton is that she’s received large contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Will that deter her from taking those industries on?

Krugman was disasppointed that the media declared winners not based upon substance, but on how the candidates came across:

Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.

Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)

Krugman warns that candidates should be judged by what they say about substantive issues and not superficial character judgments. “Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.” He fears this country cannot “survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.”