SciFi Friday: Televison During the Strike; Lost Secrets; The Golden Compass and Religion

With the writers strike going into six weeks the number of new shows is dwindling. AP presents an update as to which shows still have new episodes and which are on indefinite hiatus. Fortunately there are also some shows planned to start in the winter which already have some episodes completed, including Jericho and Lost. Jericho will resume on February 12 with a run of seven new episodes on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. What seemed like such a short season has now become almost a norm for this year. One new show, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, even has thirteen episodes ready to air starting with a two night premier on January 13-14.

SciFi Wire received some answers from the producers of Lost, but they won’t come as much of a surprise, or really clear up any mysteries. They reveal that “the show is about redemption. All the characters on this island are confronting the failures of their past and revisiting issues that go to the core of their emotional makeup.” Other comments regarding the meaning of the show include the producers saying, “We are interested in exploring how good and evil can be embodied in the same characters and the struggles we all have to overcome the dark parts of our souls.” The person in the coffin at the end of season three is someone we’ve seen before, but there are no further clues. Walt will return but it doesn’t sound like it will be soon. The Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle will continue. There will continue to be flashbacks and looks into the future. Jacob will be more important to the show in the future, with the producers realizing that the unveiling of Jacob in the third season did not provide any answers.

Heroes concluded with an episode which was intended to be the end of one arc for the season but which served as a good season finale. They put an end to the threat of the virus which in one alternate future wiped out most of humanity, and Hiro gave the immortal Adam the punishment he deserved in being buried alive–forever (or until they decide to bring him back in a future season). Sylar is now rejuvenated and ready to use his powers for evil, after taking a break to play Spock. At least the strike means Zachary Quinto has some time to film Star Trek without limiting his time for Heroes. The idea of going public may be at an end. HRG is back at The Company, but are they really wise to leave him on the loose? It looks like the end for both Nikki and Nathan, but who knows for sure.

Star Trek XI stars filming Leonard Nimoy’s scenes next week. The X-Files movie begins production next month and is signing stars including Amanda Peet (above), formerly of Studio 60.

The controversy created by the Harry Potter books and movies might be greatly exceeded with the opening of The Golden Compass. The books, especially the second and third, really do have an anti-religious bias and those who objected to Harry Potter will find much more to become upset about. That doesn’t mean they necessarily have to hide from the books or movie. After all, my family watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and we weren’t tempted to give up our liberal, secular ways (or devil worship if you ask Bill O’Reilly). For those fearful of ideas they don’t agree with, I hear that the movie version of The Golden Compass does play down the views of religion presented in the novels. The Guardian reviewed the movie last spring after it premiered at Cannes:

The Golden Compass, the Hollywood adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, launched in Cannes yesterday with a sneak preview of the film, which will hit UK cinemas at Christmas.

Chris Weitz, its screenwriter and director, used the event to address speculation about whether the books’ firmly anti-religious message would be retained.

Referring to the Magisterium – the all-powerful religious body that wields total political power in the world of Lyra, the heroine – he said: “In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that’s what you want in the film, you’ll be disappointed. We have expanded the range of meanings that the Magisterium represents.”

He added that there would be no specific marketing to neutralise any potential religious backlash in the US. “We’re going to let the film talk for itself,” he said.

Speaking from his home in Oxford, Pullman told the Guardian: “The Magisterium as I conceived it always did stand for a range of things, including organised religion and secular authority.

“The outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they’ve done – and given they have compressed a story that takes 11 hours to read out into two hours or so.”

Weitz said: “Philip Pullman is against any kind of organised dogma, whether it is church hierarchy or, say, a Soviet hierarchy. We often deal quite obliquely with it in the film … but we have done service to Pullman’s books. Those people who read them for their philosophical content will not be disappointed.”

Paul Krugman’s False Analogy to Medicare In Support of Mandates

Paul Krugman makes some serious errors as he continues his attacks on Barack Obama for proposing a health care reform plan without a mandate for all individuals to purchase insurance. There are pros and cons to both positions but Krugman writes as if only plans with mandates are possible. This ignores the fact that most of the Democratic candidates for the 2008 nomination, including John Edwards, proposed plans which lacked mandates but most Democrats considered them worthwhile. The ultimate goal was to help those who desire to obtain health care coverage but are not able to do so, not necessarily to achieve universal coverage. As Obama’s Fact Check web site points out, even Paul Krugman had a favorable review of Obama’s plan until this turned into a political battle with Obama on one side and Edwards and Clinton on the other.

One objection is that a plan without a mandate is not universal, although many concede that even plans with a mandate will also not be universal. While some such as Robert Reich argue that Obama’s plan will lead to more people being covered than Clinton’s plan. Krugman might be right in disputing such arguments. It is quite plausible that any plan which makes something required will be more universal than a voluntary plan, but that is hardly the only criteria by which to judge plans. How about a plan in which everyone who fails to purchase to buy insurance is shot on the spot? One way or another that will guarantee universal coverage, but few would find this desirable. (Some might argue it is preferable to John Edwards’ plan to sick the IRS on those who do not comply.)

Krugman raises additional objections, including a fallacious analogy to Medicare:

Look, the point of a mandate isn’t to dictate how people should live their lives — it’s to prevent some people from gaming the system. Under the Obama plan, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance, then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. This would lead to higher premiums for everyone else. It would reward the irresponsible, while punishing those who did the right thing and bought insurance while they were healthy.

Here’s an analogy. Suppose someone proposed making the Medicare payroll tax optional: you could choose not to pay the tax during your working years if you didn’t think you’d actually need Medicare when you got older — except that you could change your mind and opt back in if you started to develop health problems.

Can we all agree that this would fatally undermine Medicare’s finances? Yet Mr. Obama is proposing basically the same rules for his allegedly universal health care plan.

There is a major problem with this analogy to Medicare. Medicare is primarily paid from payroll taxes collected throughout a person’s working life as opposed to premiums paid for the year the insurance is actually in effect. Someone who skipped paying their payroll taxes their entire life and then joined Medicare would certainly have a fantastic deal, but Obama is not advocating anything similar to this. Those who opt in later would have avoided paying premiums for periods in which they didn’t have coverage, which hardly sounds unreasonable, but would still have to pay premiums once they decide to opt into the system.

It wouldn’t be difficult to structure the system to prevent people from getting a free ride by waiting until they have medical problems. This might be one situation in which preexisting condition clauses could be maintained. There is also a far better analogy from Medicare than the one Krugman provides in the Medicare Part D Program. The new program which covers pharmaceuticals, despite having many other flaws, has found a way around this type of problem. The plan is voluntary to join the plan but there are two forms of restrictions on those who haven’t joined but decide to join in the future. There is open enrollment for only part of the year, making it a gamble for people who might develop an expensive medical condition in March and have to pay for their prescriptions out of pocket until the following January. There is also a penalty as those who join later must pay higher premiums once they opt in to offset the fact that they didn’t pay into the system when they were younger and presumably less expensive to cover.

Besides his erroneous analogy to Medicare, Krugman fails to realize that, regardless of his arguments for it, a mandate is a case of government telling people how to run their lives. While a health plan with a mandate might be easier to set up, and perhaps even be less expensive, this does not change the fact that it is an unnecessary case of government telling people what to do. Krugman is concerned about the political liabilities Obama might face by repeating what Krugman considers to be right wing talking points. If Krugman as well as Democrats want to argue that free choice is a right wing talking point, and not a principle they support, they face far greater political problems than those Krugman warns Obama about.

Blimp Asks: Who Is Ron Paul? Campaign Finance Experts Ask If Plan is Legal

The Trail reports that the Ron Paul blimp is off the ground. Libertarians have often contemplated unorthodox methods of finance including the fictional Delos D. Harriman’s attempt to raise money to go to the moon in Robert A. Heinlein’s novella The Man Who Sold the Moon. Among the methods used by Harriman was to bluff businessmen with claims of offers of money from competitors to turn the moon into a giant billboard. Supporters of Ron Paul also use a profit model but use a blimp instead of the moon as billboard. The blimp features a message similar to the catch phrase of another libertarian classic, Atlas Shrugged as it asks, “Who is Ron Paul.” The unconventional financing is described:

The blimp is being run by Liberty Political Advertising, a for-profit company formed just for this purpose. The company is offering Paul supporters the chance to sponsor portions of the blimp’s journey, ranging from $10 for one minute of “air time” to $1 million for 10 weeks. On the Ron Paul blimp’s Web site, the organizers describe this arrangement “the best of both worlds, no limits and virtually no regulations.”

“The ad is on a blimp, but you can also think of it as a floating billboard,” the group’s website says. “It will fly for six hours per day generating advertising and publicity while on the ground as well as in the air. Blimp sponsors, the local media and nearby residents will be able to gather at landing sites to tour the blimp. Those with tickets will board for rides. Informal blimp parties will be organized at scheduled stops around the country as the blimp makes its way to key destinations for maximum public exposure.”

Bradley Smith, a former FEC chairman, is representing the group and says the for-profit arrangement is no different than if a company formed to sell t-shirts or coffee mugs with a candidate’s name on it. Each contributor to the effort would be making his or her own independent expenditure. If that contribution is greater than $250, the donor will have to report it to the FEC. But there are no limits under this plan.

The FEC might not agree that there are no limits:

That is not sitting well with some campaign finance experts. Fred Wertheimer, who runs the campaign finance advocacy group Democracy 21, said if the point of the enterprise is to influence the presidential race, it should be set up as a political action committee. That would not only mean disclosing the names of the donors, but limiting individuals to no more than $5,000 in contributions in one year.

“Is this a legitimate advertising company operating in the normal course of business. or is it a sham operation created to evade the campaign finance laws by posing as an advertising company?” Wertheimer asked. “That’s the issue here.”

Campaign finance expert Rick Hasen, who teaches at Loyola Law School in California. said he agrees, and expects the Federal Election Commission will look into just that question. But probably not before the blimp gets aloft.

Paul supporters also plan to go to Boston to reenact the Boston Tea Party and hold a rally at Faneuil Hall.

Conservative Views on Freedom, Religion, and The Free Market

I’ve already posted my reaction to Mitt Romney’s speech and noted how a Washington Post editorial, as well as a liberal columnist, shared my disagreement with Romney’s statement that “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” It should be noted that some conservatives have raised the same objection. For example, Peggy Noonan wrote:

There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.

My feeling is we’ve bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else. 

Ed Morrissey shows that some conservatives do share Romney’s bias, ane even finds free-market economic systems to be a reflection of God, but is at least willing to treat all, even the infidels, equally:

I understand where Romney drew his inspiration for equating freedom and religion. In part, he drew it from the Declaration of Independence, which talks of inalienable rights “endowed by the Creator”. Without a Creator to make man in His image, one can hardly believe that all men are created equal In pragmatic terms, the diversity of individuals shows a wide variance of productivity and commercial value, which gets expressed in a free-market economic system. However, as souls who are all children of a Creator, we are just as siblings in a family, and should be treated as equals to honor that Creator.

After reading this, it is just amazing that an athiest like Ayn Rand managed to champion the free-market system.

Freedom Without Religion

In my comments after Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday one portion I objected to was Romney’s claim that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” The Washington Post devoted their editorial on Romney’s speech to this line, concluding:

Where Mr. Romney most fell short, though, was in his failure to recognize that America is composed of citizens not only of different faiths but of no faith at all and that the genius of America is to treat them all with equal dignity. “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom,” Mr. Romney said. But societies can be both secular and free. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe may be empty, as Mr. Romney said, but the democracies of Europe are thriving.

“Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government,” Mr. Romney said. But not all Americans acknowledge that, and those who do not may be no less committed to the liberty that is the American ideal.

Post columnist E.J. Dionne was also critical of this portion of Romney’s speech:

Religion can certainly be conducive to freedom. But does freedom require religion? Is religion always conducive to freedom? Does freedom not also thrive in far more secular societies than our own? Isn’t the better course for our nation to seek solidarity among lovers of liberty, secular as well as religious? After all, as the Princeton scholar Jeffrey Stout has noted, it was a coalition of believers and secularists that sent a communist dictatorship tumbling down in Pope John Paul II’s native Poland.

And Romney’s knock on the “religion of secularism” was pure pandering to the religious right.

This is certainly pandering, and reinforces the view that the only choices are those offered by the religious right or an absence of religion from society. Supporters of a secular state desire to remove the influence of religion from government but may or may not personally be religious. As I noted yesterday, many of the founding fathers were both religious and supported a secular government with separation of church and state. Many religious leaders have also recognized that separation of church and state is essential to guarantee freedom of religion. Under a secular state each individual has the right to believe, or not believe, as they choose. While religion is not necessary for freedom, separation of church and state is necessary to prevent the denial of liberty to those who disagree with the predominant religion.