SciFi Weekend: US Version of Life on Mars Successful; The Final Cylon; Doctor Who Archival Material; Batman Dies; And Fifty Reasons To Have Sex

Developing an American version of a British television show does not always work, such as with Coupling. The American version of Life on Mars has been far more successful. The co-creator of the BBC version told The Hollywood Reporter he approves of the American version, even if it goes in a different direction than the original:

The co-creator of the BBC’s “Life on Mars” gives high marks to the new version across the pond as being in the same gritty spirit as the British version.

“I think it’s marvelous,” said co-creator Ashley Pharoah, who was in Manhattan on Monday to pick up the show’s second International Emmy for best drama. “We’re really very proud of it.”

Pharoah said he understands that the U.S. version was likely to take a different direction than the British version. After all, “Life on Mars” went a planned 16 episodes where the ABC version could have a first season of 22 episodes and maybe more if it’s picked up.

“They’re changing the mythology, which I think is all right,” Pharoah said. “It has to be different. Otherwise everyone just goes on YouTube and sees how it ends.”

And about that ending, a decidedly downbeat conclusion required, in part, because actor John Simm, didn’t want to do more that 16 episodes. Pharoah said he has been talking to the writers of the ABC show but doesn’t know how it’ll end.

“Even we worried about that,” said Pharoah. “Some people back home didn’t like the ending, but that was the end we had in mind from the beginning.”

Writer-producer Cameron Roach also doesn’t mind the changes.

“I think it’s good that it ends in a different way,” Roach said. “It keeps the American audiences guessing.”

There is considerable speculation as to who will be revealed as the final Cylon when Battlestar Galactica returns. SyFy Portal gives a rundown of the speculation with the top five candidates. The top five candidates are rumored to be, in alphabetical order, Lee Adama, Felix Gaeta, Laura Roslin, Elen Tigh, and Cally Tyrol.

Fans of the original Doctor Who series will be interested in the archival material the BBC has posted on line here. For more modern information, The Daily Telegraph has an interview with David Tennant. The BBC has also released a synopsis of the upcoming Christmas special:

It’s Christmas Eve in 1851 and Cybermen stalk the snow of Victorian London, in this special Christmas edition of Russell T Davies’s Bafta Award-winning time-travelling drama. When the Doctor arrives and starts to investigate a spate of mysterious deaths, he’s surprised to meet another Doctor, and soon the two must combine forces to defeat the ruthless Miss Hartigan. But are two Doctors enough to stop the rise of the CyberKing?

A twelve foot float honoring Star Trek was included in the 72nd Annual Sun Bowl Parade in El Paso, Texas this Thanksgiving Day. We can expect to see a lot more of Star Trek leading up to the upcoming movie, include a series of four comics leading into the movie.

Stan Lee, creator of comics including Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men, was one of  nine recipients of the 2008 National Medal of the Arts at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

Last year Captain America died. Now it appears that Bruce Wayne has died and someone else might be taking over as Batman.


Among the various shows on in the past week, there was the season finale of True Blood, Dexter learned that Miguel has not been honest with him, leading me to be even more suspicious that Dexter will wind up killing him as I discussed last week, and How I Met Your Mother presented a new technique to get a woman into bed–The Naked Man. Ted and Barney tried out various poses in the video above. At least if Ted was going to try this he only did so after he was certain he had no interest in ever seeing the woman again as in most cases this would be the most likely result.

While I doubt it would be very successful, except in cases where sex was already a sure thing, the idea was off the wall enough to make for an entertaining episode. Another highlight was Lily compiling a list of 50 Reasons to have SEX. TV Squad got a copy of the original list as written on a napkin at MacLaren’s Irish Pub. Click on the image below for a larger version.

The Return of Austan-Power to the Obama Transition

Two advisers to Barack Obama, Austan Goolsbee and Samantha Powers, had their roles diminished during the campaign, but Austan and Powers are now back.

Goolsbee made some comments on trade policy during the campaign which some believe Barack Obama objected to, and more recently some writers such as Megan McArdle believed he was being thrown overboard. Late last week Obama announced that Goosbee will be heading his Economic Recovery Advisory Board along with being a member of his Council of Economic Advisers. The Chicago Tribune describes Goolsbee:

Goolsbee is a rising star in a generation of academic economists fluent in important new research about how policy and human behavior intermix…

When it comes to ideology, Goolsbee is widely considered an outlier at an institution long viewed as a monolith of right-leaning free-market economics. The school itself played up his left-leaning ways by staging debates between Goolsbee and Randall Kroszner, who served in the administration of President George W. Bush and is now a Fed governor.

But for all his showmanship, colleagues say Goolsbee is a smart, pragmatic centrist who has an abiding respect for free markets and the power of data to reveal economic behavior. What he brings to the Obama campaign is not liberal ideology but a willingness to challenge orthodoxy—free market or otherwise.

When talking about Obama’s platform on trade, for instance, Goolsbee insists that the president-elect has a deep commitment to free markets. But he also recognizes that classic free-trade theory doesn’t account for consequences like job loss.

Samantha Power was forced to resign from the campaign in March for calling Hillary Clinton a monster. AP reports that Power is back:

State Department officials said Friday that Samantha Power is among foreign policy experts the president-elect’s office selected to help the incoming administration prepare for Clinton’s anticipated nomination as secretary of state.

The Obama transition team’s Web site includes Power’s name as one of 14 members of the “Agency Review Team” for the State Department.

It will be interesting to see if Power is given a position in the State Department should Hillary Clinton be named Secretary of State.

New York Times Calls For Elimination of Subsidies to Medicare Advantage Plans

Back in 2007, while campaigning in Iowa, I noted that Barack Obama criticized the extra money paid to care for patients in Medicare Advantage Plans compared to the regular Medicare Program. Obama cited the program at other times while campaigning when asked to name wasteful government programs which he would eliminate.

The government pays private insurance companies which run Medicare Advantage plans more than it costs to care for Medicare patients in the government Medicare program. Last year I also noted that the American Medical Association called for the elimination of these plans.

The New York Times has an editorial on Medicare Advantage plans today:

Medicare currently pays the private plans — now called the Medicare Advantage program — 13 percent more on average than the same services would cost in the traditional fee-for-service program. Some of the added payments are used to provide extra benefits for enrollees, like reduced cost-sharing or reduced premiums for such extra benefits as vision and dental care.

The added value averages more than $1,100 a year per patient. Not surprisingly, that makes them attractive to individuals and employers seeking coverage for retirees. It has fueled an explosive growth in enrollments. Almost a quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries, more than 10 million people, are enrolled in private plans.

The managed-care plans still arguably do a better job than traditional Medicare at coordinating care and eliminating duplicative services. Unfortunately, the fastest growth has occurred in private-fee-for-service plans, which do very little to coordinate care. They simply piggyback on the traditional Medicare program, relying on the same doctors and hospitals while using their subsidies to offer cost savings or extra benefits to enrollees.

As these plans have proliferated, Medicare’s costs to cover the subsidies have risen — with the taxpayers and the beneficiaries in traditional Medicare picking up the tab. The many competing plans have also increased Medicare’s bureaucratic burden and costs. And there is no sign that these plans provide better quality of care. Congress started this year to reduce the unjustified subsidies. But a lot more needs to be done. President-elect Barack Obama called during the campaign for eliminating the excessive subsidies and paying private plans only what it would cost to treat the same patients under traditional Medicare.

That would anger millions of enrollees as well as the insurance companies that use the subsidies to attract hordes of new customers. But it is only fair to treat all Medicare beneficiaries equally. Eliminating the subsidies could provide savings to help finance broader health care reform.

While some of the money goes towards extra benefits, most of it goes towards increasing profits for insurance companies at the taxpayers’ expense.

As the editorial notes, insurance companies as well as some enrollees, might be angered by elimination of these plans. Another group which would be angered by the elimination of these plans are insurance agents who are well paid for signing people up for these plans. The financial benefits paid to Medicare Advantage plans leads many to pay by the head for new enrollees while they look the other way when laws are broken. Some of the problems with fraud in the sales of Medicare Advantage plans were previously discussed here and here.

The attitude of insurance agents can be seen in the responses to some of my previous posts on Medicare Advantage plans, such as here. The post was linked on a board used by insurance sales people, leading many to attempt to defend their practices. While those responding are probably not the ones engaged in the more fraudulent practices noted in the other reports, it is alarming that the insurance agents did demonstrate considerable ignorance as to how Medicare really works, leading them to present incorrect information when selling these plans.

I Can See Kansas From My Window

I am currently in my nephew’s apartment in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, where he recently took a job as assistant conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. Through the window I can see over the Missouri River into the state of Kansas. If being able to see Russia from part of Alaska made Sarah Palin an expert on foreign policy, I now am an expert in analying the problems in the red states.

Later this weekend we will probably actually go into Kansas. I already set my watch back an hour upon flying from Michigan to Missouri. I will set it back several additional decades upon passing into Kansas.

A Thanksgiving Message From Barack Obama


“Nearly 150 years ago, in one of the darkest years of our nation’s history, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving,” Obama said. “America was split by Civil War. But Lincoln said in his first Thanksgiving decree that difficult times made it even more appropriate for our blessings to be — and I quote — ‘gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.’

“This week, the American people came together with families and friends to carry on this distinctly American tradition. We gave thanks for loved ones and for our lasting pride in our communities and our country. We took comfort in good memories while looking forward to the promise of change.

“But this Thanksgiving also takes place at a time of great trial for our people.

“Across the country, there were empty seats at the table, as brave Americans continue to serve in harm’s way from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq. We honor and give thanks for their sacrifice, and stand by the families who endure their absence with such dignity and resolve.

“At home, we face an economic crisis of historic proportions. More and more Americans are worried about losing a job or making their mortgage payment. Workers are wondering if next month’s paycheck will pay next month’s bills. Retirees are watching their savings disappear, and students are struggling with the cost of tuition.

“It’s going to take bold and immediate action to confront this crisis. That’s why I’m committed to forging a new beginning from the moment I take office as President of the United States. Earlier this week, I announced my economic team. This talented and dedicated group is already hard at work crafting an Economic Recovery Plan that will create or save 2.5 million new jobs, while making the investments we need to fuel long-term economic growth and stability.

“But this Thanksgiving, we are reminded that the renewal of our economy won’t come from policies and plans alone — it will take the hard work, innovation, service, and strength of the American people.

“I have seen this strength firsthand over many months — in workers who are ready to power new industries, and farmers and scientists who can tap new sources of energy; in teachers who stay late after school, and parents who put in that extra hour reading to their kids; in young Americans enlisting in a time of war, seniors who volunteer their time, and service programs that bring hope to the hopeless.

“It is a testament to our national character that so many Americans took time out this Thanksgiving to help feed the hungry and care for the needy. On Wednesday, I visited a food bank at Saint Columbanus Parish in Chicago. There — as in so many communities across America — folks pitched in time and resources to give a lift to their neighbors in need. It is this spirit that binds us together as one American family — the belief that we rise and fall as one people; that we want that American Dream not just for ourselves, but for each other.

“That’s the spirit we must summon as we make a new beginning for our nation. Times are tough. There are difficult months ahead. But we can renew our nation the same way that we have in the many years since Lincoln’s first Thanksgiving: by coming together to overcome adversity; by reaching for — and working for — new horizons of opportunity for all Americans.

“So this weekend — with one heart, and one voice, the American people can give thanks that a new and brighter day is yet to come.”

Voting For The Smart One

In 2004 John Kerry was thought to be too much of an elitist for many voters, plus he went wind surfing. Instead many voted for a candidate who was lacking in intellectual curiosity and understanding of the details of policy.

During both the primaries and the general election campaigns this year many claimed that Barack Obama was an elitist as they supported other candidates. Suddenly, with the current economic crisis, more people are realizing that maybe we do need a member of an elite to be president. Voting based upon who you would prefer to have a beer with has fortunately fallen out of favor. There is value in having a president who is intelligent, understands the issues, and has the intellectual curiosity to evaluate problems in depth.

A majority of voters realized this by election day and elected Barack Obama by the largest margin of any non-incumbent since Eisenhower won in 1952. The pundits are also catching on to this. Today David Broder writes that this is a Good Time For a Brainy President.

Broder writes that for years he has “been arguing that there are traits much more important to the success of a president than brainpower. Self-confidence, curiosity, an eye for talent, the ability to communicate, a temperament that invites collaboration — all these and more rank higher on the list of desirable presidential traits.” This year he is viewing it differently:

I am not ready to abandon that view. But I am struck by how lucky this country is, at the moment, that the president-elect is a super-smart person like Barack Obama.

With each passing day, it becomes more evident that even the smartest and most experienced managers of the American economy are struggling to understand — and fix — what has gone wrong in our markets.

I attempt to follow the discussion in newspapers and on Jim Lehrer’s “NewsHour” and other deeply serious television programs about the latest moves by the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury — and I am stumped.

The sums are so staggering, the vocabulary so unfamiliar, the experience so uninformative that I have not a clue whether Bernanke, Paulson and Co. are on top of the situation or are inadvertently making things worse.

That’s an embarrassing admission. I get paid to cover the government, and this is by far the most important challenge facing Washington. But I am utterly dependent on others to decipher the clues that may unravel these mysteries.

Obama is not similarly handicapped. Even in the emotional maelstrom of his election victory, and even with the pressures of assembling his administration, everything points to his managing to focus on the policy choices looming in the economic field.

I have talked to two people on the fringe of the transition team — both members of Congress with major responsibilities in the economic area. Both have been asked for input by Obama, and both say that the quality of his questions — and his follow-ups — were a measure of the depth of his knowledge of the situation.

After the 2004 election I got a badge which says, “Don’t Blame Me–I Voted for the Smart One.” I put it up near a bumper sticker which says, “My Dog is Smarter Than Your President.” Fortunately there is no need for either message after this year’s election.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving.One thing we can be thankful for is that it is the last Thanksgiving with George Bush as president.

Posting at Liberal Values has already been down the last couple of days as I have prepared to get out of town, and will probably remain reduced, with some occasional posting, through the weekend.

Libertarians Consider Government Action While Dagny Taggart’s Mind Gives Hank Rearden The Biggest Boner

There is a wide variety of people who fall under the libertarian label. Those who concentrate on economic issues and consider any intervention by government in the economy to be an immoral example of initiation of unjust force are having a tough time during this economic crisis. Many libertarians claim the problem was too much government regulation and the government should do nothing, but they are having a tough time selling this message. David Weigel, an editor at Reason, writes in The Guardian that some libertarians are no longer as dogmatic as in the days when Albert Jay Nock opposed the New Deal, writing that Roosevelt, Hitler, and Stalin were practicing “only local variants of the common doctrine.”

But modern libertarian thinkers and economists are not so dogmatic, or so reflexively anti-intervention, as Nock was. Amity Shales, an economic writer and historian who last year published a blockbuster, anti-New Deal history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, has endorsed the idea of bail-out money for Wall Street, as long as it does not require management from Washington. (The current bail-out plan is a bit of a hash of both ideas.)

Megan McArdle, a libertarian editor at the Atlantic Monthly, was more conflicted. The dogmatic libertarian position on the bail-out – the one that, as it happened, Republicans in the House of Representatives held, as they shot down the first attempt at a bail-out in late September – was to oppose it. But McArdle chastised them for doing so. “I find it hard to believe that they’re voting their conscience; they’re voting their electoral interest in November. I hope their constituencies enjoy the bank panic

If some libertarians are now willing to consider government intervention in the economy it might be time to rewrite some libertarian classics. Jeremiah Tucker has rewritten Atlas Shrugged to account for the changing economic times (along with making it much shorter than the original). This satiric revision begins with Dagney Taggert and Hank Rearden talking, as Rearden gives a clue as to where the economy has gone wrong compared to an idealized Ayn Rand capitalistic society. The revision does maintain some aspects of Rand’s ideas on sex, but fortunately they actually get to it with much shorter speeches than in the original:

“I heard the thugs in Washington were trying to take your Rearden metal at the point of a gun,” she said. “Don’t let them, Hank. With your advanced alloy and my high-tech railroad, we’ll revitalize our country’s failing infrastructure and make big, virtuous profits.”

“Oh, no, I got out of that suckers’ game. I now run my own hedge-fund firm, Rearden Capital Management.”


He stood and adjusted his suit jacket so that his body didn’t betray his shameful weakness. He walked toward her and sat informally on the edge of her desk. “Why make a product when you can make dollars? Right this second, I’m earning millions in interest off money I don’t even have.”

He gestured to his floor-to-ceiling windows, a symbol of his productive ability and goodness.

“There’s a whole world out there of byzantine financial products just waiting to be invented, Dagny. Let the leeches run my factories into the ground! I hope they do! I’ve taken out more insurance on a single Rearden Steel bond than the entire company is even worth! When my old company finally tanks, I’ll make a cool $877 million.”

Their eyes locked with an intensity she was only beginning to understand. Yes, Hank … claim me … If we’re to win the battle against the leeches, we must get it on … right now … Don’t let them torture us for our happiness … or our billions.

He tore his eyes away.

“I can’t. Sex is base and vile!”

“No, it’s an expression of our highest values and our admiration for each other’s minds.”

“Your mind gives me the biggest boner, Dagny Taggart.”

He fell upon her like a savage, wielding his mouth like a machete, and in the pleasure she took from him her body became an extension of her quarterly earnings report—proof of her worthiness as a lover. His hard-on was sanction enough.

“Scream your secret passions, Hank Rearden!”



“Credit-default swaps!”

“Oh, yes! Yes!”

“Collateralized debt obligation.”


What Took You So Long, Joe?

Joe Klein finally gets it about George Bush in writing, “At the end of a presidency of stupefying ineptitude, he has become the lamest of all possible ducks.” He realizes Bush’s greatest failing:

It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy. He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness. He is less than President now, and that is appropriate. He was never very much of one.

Unfortunately, as Glenn Greenwald points out, Klein didn’t always see through Bush. He provides an example of Klein on Face the Nation on May 4, 2003 discussing Bush’s Mission Accomplished stunt. Klein said:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.

Today he describes it differently:

He is an impeccable classicist when it comes to baseball. And that just about does it for me. I’d add the bracing moment of Bush with the bullhorn in the ruins of the World Trade Center, but that was neutered in my memory by his ridiculous, preening appearance in a flight suit on the deck of the aircraft carrier beneath the “Mission Accomplished” sign. The flight-suit image is one of the two defining moments of the Bush failure. The other is the photo of Bush staring out the window of Air Force One, helplessly viewing the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. This is a presidency that has wobbled between those two poles — overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence.(President Bush in the Middle East.)

Instaputz provides additional examples of Joe Klein’s change in attitude towards Bush.

The problems we faced during the Bush years are primarily the responsibility of George Bush, but the media deserves some blame for failing to do its job. They were so terrified by the ridiculous claims of liberal bias coming from the right that they bent over backwards to present Republican fiction as fact.

It wasn’t until after the disaster of Bush’s policies became greatly apparent that the media finally realized that presenting the facts which contradict untrue statements from government or other parties is not bias. This is simply doing their job. Just as they assisted the Bush administration in covering up facts which were inconvenient to them, some members of the media are now engaged in covering up their own failings during the earlier Bush years. As Glenn Greeenwald concludes:

Truly learning from one’s mistakes — as opposed to wet-finger-in-the-air abandoment of  previously revered leaders when they are revealed as failures and lose their power — requires, at the very least, an acknowledgment of one’s own role in what happened.   There have been very few mea culpas from establishment media journalists, many — most — of whom, to this day, think they did nothing wrong (“It was all Judy Miller!“).  As bad as this absence of remorse is, it is simply intolerable to watch those who cheered on many of the worst excesses try now to pretend that they were skeptical, adversarial critics all along.  Journalists with influential platforms have responsibilities, the primary one of which is to be accountable for what they say and do.

Back in September Joe Klein wrote about the dishonesty shown by John McCain during the campaign and indicated he would not accept an apology from McCain should he show remorse for his tactics after the campaign. It would be nice if Klein at least showed some remorse for his role in enabling George Bush. We don’t even have an apology to decide whether to accept.

Obama Has Team of Rivals for Health Care

The Plank has an item on Obama’s health care team, noting that these are people who mean business about health care reform. This doesn’t mean that they all agree on the specifics. While there are benefits to be gained from information technology, I think that some people outside of health care overestimate the potential cost savings, as I’ve discussed here. There is disagreement over this even among Obama’s health care team:

Here’s one interesting storyline to watch, for those of you who care about substance: The Obama health plan includes a substantial up-front investment in better information technology. Cutler has long argued that the resulting efficiencies could save substantial sums of money in the long term. But many experts have been skeptical of this claim–not least among them, incoming Budget Director Peter Orszag.

Cutler and Orszag share the same goals; both are absolutely committed to health care reform. But they don’t agree about how to read the data. So I’m sure they’ll go a few rounds on that.

Of course, that’s precisely how an administration should make policy: By putting the best minds in the same room and letting the sparks fly.

Including advisers with diffuse views is one of Obama’s strengths. At least they will not be making policy how the Bush administration attempted to: by asking what the Bible would say about the subject.