SciFi Friday (Sunday Edition): Torchwood Ends and Doctor Who Returns; A Cylon Civil War; An Aging Starlet?; and a Special Passover Feature

For viewers of the U.S. feeds of the shows, this week marked the end of Torchwood and the start of a new season of Doctor Who. Exit Wounds, the finale of Torchwood presented a surprise as it turned out that Jack’s brother Gray, and not John, was the real villain. John was really the prisoner, not Gray, and was being forced to do all those nasty things to Jack and the others at Torchwood. Besides concluding the Gray storyline, we also say a conclusion to the hinted at romance between Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper. Sadly it also meant the end of both of their lives. This does leave things open for changes in the show, such as bringing back Martha Jones, but hopefully they will not destroy what has made the show great, as some rumors suggest.

The SciFi Channel returned with the Christmas episode of Doctor Who, The Voyage of the Damned, which I previously commented on here. Next week they start the actual season. The season begins with the return of Donna, as well as someone else. In the second episode The Doctor takes Donna to Pompeii, on volcano day, allowing for a look at the question of changing history. The third episode features a trip to the plane of the Ood.

Battlestar Galactica has shown the Cylons degenerate into a civil war. While the pre-season rumors that Starbuck would be thrown in the brig were true, this didn’t last long as she has now been given a ship of her own to once again find Earth. Apparently it isn’t as easy as suggested at the start of the season. Cally found out that her husband is one of the four newly identified Cylons with tragic results. Incidentally, did anyone else notice the homage to Star Trek? The room where Cally overheard the conversation naming the Cylons had a designation of NCC1701-D, the call letters of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While Battlestar Galactica is ending, there has been news of yet two more projects for Ron Moore. He will have a trilogy of movies, and Fox has approved a two hour pilot for Virtuosity.

The sci-fi project, from Universal Media Studios and producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, is set aboard the Phaeton, Earth’s first starship, on a 10-year journey to explore a distant solar system. To help the 12 crew members endure the long trip and keep their minds occupied, NASA equipped the ship with advanced virtual reality modules, allowing them to assume adventurous identities and go to any place they want.

I hope this doesn’t turn into a series of holodeck adventures. Perhaps it won’t matter. Odds are that a science fiction show starting on Fox won’t be around very long. At least Fox has renewed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Adventures.

Lost returns with five new episodes on April 24. SciFi Wire has some mild spoilers regarding the final episodes. They primarily talk about what information will be revealed without actually revealing anything.

Believe it or not, Scarlett Johansson (above) is considered too old, at least for one role. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) has replaced Johansson in Napoleon and Betsy.

SciFi Friday concentrates on television, and has also included both movies and books.  If Andrew Haydon has his way, science fiction will extend to theater.

Finally, for the Passover edition of SciFi Friday I will  include a link to an unusual reference. When reading about various animals in  fantasy literature have you ever wondered if their meat is kosher? If so, Ecstatic Days has the ultimate reference.

Government Viewed as an Element

Another one of those humorous items being spread by email. This one reports on a new element:

Governmentium (Gv)

Research has led to the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2 to 6 years; It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Joe Lieberman: From Running with Gore to Campaigning for Lieberman

The New York Times speculates on what would have happened if Gore-Lieberman taken office in 2000:

Imagine for a moment the Supreme Court had gone the other way in Bush v. Gore in 2000. We would now be in year eight of the Gore-Lieberman administration. Well, maybe not the Lieberman part.

There’s nothing new about friction between a president and vice president (Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Wallace and Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey are but two examples) or between failed running mates (John F. Kerry and John Edwards are only the most recent). But rarely have two members of a presidential ticket gone in such starkly different directions as former Vice President Al Gore and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. It is tempting, for fans of counterfactual history, to play out what kind of drama might have emerged in a White House under that ticket’s auspices.

Not only have Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman staked out diametrically opposite positions on the Iraq war, Mr. Gore went so far as to endorse one of Mr. Lieberman’s presidential rivals in 2004, Howard Dean, largely because of his opposition to the invasion. Mr. Lieberman is campaigning for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

The two men barely speak.

As Mr. Gore steadily migrated leftward from his roots as a hawkish, centrist New Democrat, Mr. Lieberman lurched to the right, so much so that he now makes common cause with Republicans, at least on the war.

The major problem with this thought experiment is that we would not be in the position we are now if Al Gore had become president in 2001. Most likely we would not be in Iraq, or at very least we would not have the current partisan divides. Without Iraq (and possibly without 9/11 if we had a president who actually paid attention to the many warnings) Joe Lieberman would probably have never varied from the views of his party so sharply.

It is a mistake to look at Iraq as simply being a dispute between hawks and doves. Going into Iraq as we did was a tremendous mistake, and it doesn’t take being a dove to recognize this. For a “hawkish” Democrat to oppose the war does not necessarily mean a change in philosophy. It can simply be understanding the difference between when military solutions do and do not make sense.

Gore-Lieberman did not take office and we are in Iraq. If not for the war Joe Lieberman would probably not have been forced to seek reelection as an independent, and would probably not be backing the Republican candidate. However, the fact remains that Iraq did happen, Lieberman was on the wrong side of the issue, Lieberman is technically no longer a Democrat, and Lieberman is supporting the Republican nominee. Ed Kilgore has reviewed how radical a development this is:

Back when Lieberman first endorsed McCain, Ken Rudin of NPR did a useful analysisof precedents. The last example he could find of a Member of Congress endorsing the opposing party’s presidential candidate without retribution was in 1956, when Adam Clayton Powell, at that point the only African-American Member of Congress, endorsed Eisenhower. You can understand why Democrats might have refrained from punishing him. But since then, three congressional Democrats endorsed other candidates (John Bell Williams of Mississippi and Albert Watson of SC in 1964, and John Rarick in 1968), and all were stripped of their seniority in the House. Unlike Lieberman, all three were, if nothing else, faithfully reflecting the views of their constituents.

Since 1968, there have been, quite literally, hundreds if not thousands of Democratic and Republican officeholders who in one election or the other, privately preferred the other party’s presidential candidate. A huge number of Republicans didn’t endorse or campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964, but nor did they endorse or campaign for Lyndon Johnson. And despite the incredible weakness of the national Democratic Party in the South and West during the 1984 and 1988 presidential cycles, you didn’t see any public defections from the then-robust ranks of elected Democrats, either.

This is, in sum, the Line You May Not Cross if you choose to identify yourself as a Republican or as a Democrat. John McCain surely understands that; had he followed the entreaties of some of his own staff in 2004 by endorsing–much less joining the ticket of–John Kerry, he would have been stripped of his party prerogatives instantly and eternally.

The fact that Joe Lieberman hasn’t just endorsed McCain, but has actively campaigned with him from New Hampshire to Florida to Iraq, and has also made it clear he’d be happy to speak at the Republican National Convention on his behalf, is an indisputable self-expulsion from the Democratic ranks, certainly made no less definitive by his semi-self-expulsion in 2006, when he chose to run as an independent against the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, Ned Lamont. And no measure of “friendship” for McCain can possibly justify his recent remarksentertaining the possibility that Barack Obama, who endorsed him in that same primary, may be a Marxist.

We can all understand why Harry Reid, whose Majority Leadership depends on Lieberman’s current cooperation, hasn’t already indicated Joe would lose his seniority and committee chairmanship if, as appears almost certain, Democrats pick up at least a few Senate seats in November. And I for one don’t doubt that Lieberman does indeed vote with Democrats on most issues in the Senate. But sorry, no degree of “independence” or “bipartisanship” or “personal friendship” can justify what he’s done in supporting the Republican candidate for president. He’s picked sides in the one choice that most defines party, and those who continue to admire him should accept the consequences. I for one would respect Joe Lieberman as a Republican with enlightened views on a variety of issues more than Joe Lieberman as someone claiming to represent a fictional group of “loyal Democrats” supporting John McCain.

The Media and the Iraq War

George Bush got away with one of the biggest foreign policy blunders of all times, often based upon deception, partially due to inadequate scrutiny by the news media. The New York Times has a must-read article on how the Bush administration used military experts, posing as an unbiased source despite often having a conflict of interests, to promote their policies:

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

While Glenn Greenwald gives The New York Times some credit for “having sued to compel disclosure of the documents on which the article is based,” he also finds these revelations to be “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials on whom it focuses.”

In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations — which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones — turned to them in the first place. To its credit, the article acknowledges that “at least nine” of the Pentagon’s trained military analysts wrote Op-Eds for the NYT itself, but many of those same sources were also repeatedly quoted — and still are routinely quoted — in all sorts of NYT news articles on Iraq and other “War on Terrorism” issues, something the article fails to note.

Voting on Values and The Working Class

Obama’s “bitter-gate” comment led to a lot of controversy over very little. Obama gave a brief answer to a complex question at a fund raiser,  which the Clinton and McCain camps tried to distort to earn their own political capital. The attempt was to suggest that Obama was insulting voters in small town America, but so far there is little evidence that anyone has taken this very seriously.

After all the political posturing began to die down, there has been some more serious discussion as to whether Obama was right. This is actually difficult to give a definitive answer on as Obama was giving a very brief response in answer to a complex question, and even Obama later stated he was displeased with the wording used. It is hardly remarkable that an attempt to give a brief answer to a very complex question without advanced preparation would not turn out to be a definitive response on the issue.

Paul Krugman, whose blind Obama-hatred has seriously compromised his ability to think straight and write coherently,  has attempted to look at the actual issues in a recent column. Krugman has at least finally been convinced, partially by a recent column by Larry Bartels, that Thomas Frank’s argument in What’s the Matter With Kansas? is incorrect. Franks argues that Democrats have been losing because they have abandoned economic populism, allowing lower-income voters to vote Republican, against their economic interests, based upon values issues.

There is some truth to this but I disagree with Frank’s inherent assumption that voting should be based upon economic issues as opposed to on values. Franks also fails to recognize, as Bartels argued, that there are many of us affluent liberals who could also be said to be voting against our economic interests. From the perspective of electoral politics, Franks might be right that Democrats could regain some voters on economic issues by shifting to the left, but this would also cost them the support of many other voters.

Both economics and values are considered in voting. People will vote against their economic interests, but only to a certain degree. For affluent liberal voters there are things in life which are more important than dwelling on a few percentage difference in the marginal tax rate or the capital gains rate. Making money, at least for those of us who already have it, is relatively easy and I’m not going to compromise principles in voting out of fear that taxes might go up a little. I’ve rebalanced my portfolio in response to the decreased rates on capital gains in the past, and this year I’m looking at changes under the assumption that capital gains rates will increase next year. (As an aside, such investment strategy is why the Laffer-curve absolutists are incorrect in their claims a decrease in the capital gains tax definately results in increased tax revenue, and an increase will result in decreased tax revenue. A lower capital gains tax will lead to  shifts in investments to take advantage of the lower rate, but the more important question is not tax revenue gained by lowering the capital gains tax but tax revenue lost on other investment income.)

With regards to the current election, there is reason for affluent liberal voters to support Obama. On the other hand, I see no reason to support a candidate such as Hillary Clinton who is conservative on social and civil liberties issues and populist on economic issues. Krugman, preferring the more economically populists candidates such as Clinton and Edwards, tries to put a negative spin on both Obama’s comments on class and voting as well as on his supporters:

Does it matter that Mr. Obama has embraced an incorrect theory about what motivates working-class voters? His campaign certainly hasn’t been based on Mr. Frank’s book, which calls for a renewed focus on economic issues as a way to win back the working class.

Indeed, the book concludes with a blistering attack on Democrats who cater to “affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues” while “dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans.” Doesn’t this sound a bit like the Obama campaign?

This raises the question of whether Obama is really making the Thomas Frank argument as Krugman and Bartels suggest. For Obama to be making this argument really is counter to what Obama has said at other times, and is counter to the reason why “affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues” back Obama. Krugman, again blinded by his Obama-hatred, is content with assuming there is a contradiction in Obama’s beliefs as opposed to looking further. If he was willing to actually consider Obama’s views he might realize that his interpretation of what Obama said was incorrect.

Jonathan Chait does the best job I’ve seen of actually evaluating Obama’s comments.  Recognizing that the issue is far more complex than can be analyzed based upon Obama’s brief answer in San Francisco, Chait looks at the issue by reviewing past comments from both Obama and Bill Clinton:

Obama’s offense, as we all know, was to call white working-class voters “bitter” over their economic misfortune during the last few decades, and thus prone to “cling to” guns and religion. Taken literally, Obama was saying that these voters have taken up religion and gun ownership only over the last few decades–a notion so transparently false that he surely couldn’t believe it. And, in fact, he doesn’t: In a 2004 interview with Charlie Rose, Obama described how traditions of hunting and churchgoing stretch back generations. He proceeded to argue that, in the absence of plausible economic improvement, people in small towns will vote on the basis of those traditions that give their lives stability. This is not a controversial view among Democrats. Bill Clinton once said that Republicans “find the most economically insecure white men and scare the living daylights out of them”–a less respectful expression of the same analysis.

Chait provides a further look at voting based upon economics versus values:

To urge the white working class to vote on the basis of economic policy is itself considered an act of elitism. When Obama and other liberals reproach blue-collar whites for voting their values over their wallet, argues Will, they are accusing those workers of “false consciousness.” A Wall Street Journal editorial took umbrage that Obama “diminishes the convictions of those voters who care more about the right to bear arms, or faith in God, than they do about the AFL-CIO’s agenda.”

But nobody’s challenging the validity of caring more about your religion, or even your right to hunt, than your income. The objection is whether it makes sense to vote on that basis. There are, after all, stark differences between the two parties on economic matters. Republicans do want to make working-class voters pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, restrain popular social programs, erode the value of the minimum wage, and so on.

Democrats, on the other hand, have no plans to keep anybody from attending church or hunting. A few years ago, their gun-control agenda revolved around issues like safety locks, banning assault weapons, and other restrictions carefully designed to have virtually no impact on hunters or average gun owners. Now Democrats have abandoned even those meager steps. The GOP’s appeal on those “issues” rests on cultural pandering rather than any concrete legislative program.

And, while it may be elitist to say so, voting for a politician merely because he can mimic your lifestyle is not a very good idea. George Will and the Journal editors would never dream of voting on the basis of which candidate related best to their culture. They support the candidates who share their policy goals, not those who share their passion for watching baseball, or flogging the servants, or whatever other pastimes they may enjoy.

Now, it’s true that many working-class whites also vote on social issues that do have some political relevance, like abortion or gay marriage. It’s certainly not irrational on its face to vote your values over your wallet. (Democratic billionaires do it, too.) On the other hand, conservatives routinely express their fury that a majority of Jews stubbornly flout their own “self-interest”–defined as low tax rates and a maximally hawkish Middle East policy–to vote Democratic. The process of trying to persuade others to reconsider the nature of their self-interest is not some Marxist exercise or an accusation of false consciousness. It’s what we call “democracy.”

One problem with many appeals to vote Republican is that it is based upon falsehoods and scare tactics. As Chait notes, “Democrats, on the other hand, have no plans to keep anybody from attending church or hunting.” Despite this, Republicans have based many campaigns upon using scare tactics to tell voters that Democrats planned to take away their guns, and even bibles. The support by liberal Democrats of our heritage of separation of church and state is distorted as representing an attack on religion, ignoring the fact that historically it has often been religious leaders who argued for the importance of such separation to preserve their religious freedom. It is voting based upon such scare tactics, not voting based upon their values, which I believe Obama was really trying to get at in his answer in San Francisco.