SciFi Weekend: The Battlestar Galactica Series Finale


Battlestar Galactica concluded on Friday. (Caution, this review has a tremendous number of spoilers if anyone interested is not up to the finale.) The finale could not be expected to be one hundred percent satisfying as science fiction shows of this nature tend to throw out far more than can ever have an entirely satisfactory explanation. While far from perfect, the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica holds up quite well next to explanations of the mythology behind shows such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, and The X-Files.

It came as no surprise, with all the talk of things happening before and happening again, that Galactica wound up on  Earth in our distant past. Once we saw them cross the moon and land on our Earth I quickly guessed that they would name this planet Earth based upon their dream, and after the original Earth that we had seen after its destruction.

Having them arrive on Earth  in our distant past and become part of our heritage made more sense than to have them arrive in our present or future.  The show frequently foreshadowed the importance of Hera for the survival of both humans and Cylons and this became evident during the finale. Hera was revealed to be the Mitochondrial Eve, the ancestor of all humans, with Ron Moore doing a cameo as a man reading an article on the topic (pictured above). This suggests that only the descendants of Hera survived, despite  the talk of interbreeding with the indigenous population. Presumably Hera or her descendants did interbreed with the indigenous population but what of the rest? With some, such as Adama and Tyrol, living on their own it makes sense but there were also many others. Perhaps the mitochondria from Hera came from her mixed Human/Cylon heritage and descendants of others appeared the same to contemporary human biologists.

The original show had the simplistic concept of the evil Cylons attacking the good humans. Instead Moore desired a more complicated message which blurred the lines between the two. The finale does answer the question of whether we are all Cylons.  The finding of the original Earth which had been populated by human-like Cylons suggested that, assuming that this was our Earth, we are all Cylons. The ending, with Hera as the Mitochondrial Eve, instead makes us all part human and part Cylon.

Having everyone agree to give up their technology so easily was  questionable  but necessary for the overall idea of them being our ancestors. Once the decision was made, it is certainly plausible that knowledge of advanced technology quickly died out as they had to concentrate on basic survival. They did perhaps manage to preserve enough of their ideas to lead to the redevelopment of a technological society with many of the same cultural ideas.

Having them be our ancestors with a form of species memory explains the many similarities between colonial culture and our own culture. This even included the music such as All Along the Watchtower which was ultimately reinvented by Bob Dylan.

There were other possible paths other than to have them voluntarily give up their technology. One possibility, which would have been more plausible but which would have led to a far longer story, would have been a catastrophe which led to the destruction of any civilization they attempted to build.

There is yet another possible way to have written this. Ron Moore could have written an ending in which Adama insisted they could not contaminate the indigenous population with their technology as this would violate the Prime Directive. This, of course, would have been the wrong show.

Ultimately we must accept the decision as necessary to complete the mythology of the show. We must also suspend disbelief and simply accept the fact that there were humans which they were genetically compatible with on this second Earth. While this was common place in the Star Trek universe, the universe of Battlestar Galactica did not previously include life independent of the descendants of Kobol.

There are still many mysteries. Some might be answered in The Plan, a made for television movie to air this fall which shows the events from the Cylon perspective.  Perhaps we will also learn more when the pilot to Caprica is released on DVD next month.

There are two major mysteries which still concern me. The first is the nature of Starbuck, both before and after her death. As a child she somehow learned the music which would lead her to taking the fleet to the new Earth. She later died on the original Earth and was resurrected to complete this task. This was an important part of the overall story, and I assume this remained unexplained as there is probably no satisfactory explanation other that that there are beings (or angels) which are important but unexplained. If there were higher powers guiding what was occurring, why didn’t they prevent the near annihilation  of all humans?

There is yet another type of being or angel (or demon) besides Starbuck. It became clear that Head Six and Head Baltar are real and not figments of Baltar and Six’s respective imaginations. Their existence even transcended those of the real Baltar and Six and the series ended with the two walking in modern Times Square (as earlier spoilers hinted at) as there were signs of humanity again developing robots.

This ending suggests that what happened before may or may not happen again, depending upon what we do. This does raise a certain question about the wisdom of the decision to destroy their technology in hopes of breaking the cycle. All this might have done was to stop the cycle for 150,000 years. This is a long time, and if the cycle couldn’t be stopped this could be said to be of value. The question is whether other plans would have done more to break the cycle (along with leaving defenses if the toasters had ever returned).

The humanoid Cylons from the original Earth traveled to the Colonies with the hope of breaking the cycle by warning the humans against mistreatment of artificial intelligence. They arrived too late, after the toaster Cylons had begun their rebellion. Perhaps it would have been wiser to maintain their technology and culture which would have included history of what happened including warnings against repeating the same mistakes. Instead the present people of new Earth have no knowledge of these warnings–unless perhaps Ron Moore wrote Battlestar Galactica out of a species memory which was to protect us against this.

Of course rebuilding their culture along with knowledge of history to prevent the reocurrence of this cycle might not have worked. The Cylons of the original Earth also created their own culture and ultimately forgot their history. They wound up repeating the cycle and created their own Cylons which led to their destruction. This could have been used as an argument for the route they did take, but the ending might have been more satisfying if these matters had been discussed. Fortunately the show did end with plenty for us to still think about and discuss.

Obama and The Rule of Law

In an editorial published today in The New York Times is critical of Obama for not reversing all of  George Bush’s “misguided and dangerous policies on terrorism, prisoners, the rule of law and government secrecy.”

As much as it needs to happen, we never expected President Obama to immediately reverse every one of President George W. Bush’s misguided and dangerous policies on terrorism, prisoners, the rule of law and government secrecy. Fixing this calamitous mess will take time and care — and Mr. Obama has taken important steps in that direction.

But we did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas.

There are times when the president seems to be making a clean and definitive break. On his second day in office, he ordered the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay and directed his cabinet to formulate new policies on detaining and interrogating people suspected of terrorist acts or of supporting terrorists.

Last week, the administration notified a federal court hearing appeals by Guantánamo inmates that it was dropping Mr. Bush’s absurd claim that he could declare anyone an “enemy combatant” and deprive that prisoner of judicial process. The administration affirmed its commitment to the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and long-standing military doctrine.

But the break does not always seem complete enough. Even as they dropped the “enemy combatant” terminology, Mr. Obama’s lawyers did not seem to rule out indefinite military detentions for terrorism suspects and their allies. They drew a definition of association with Al Qaeda that is too broad (simply staying in a “safe house,” for example). Worse, they seemed to adopt Mr. Bush’s position that the “battlefield” against terrorism is the planet. That became the legal pretext for turning criminal defendants into lifelong military captives.

At this point I am disappointed in some of Obama’s actions but also believe it is far too early to come to any conclusions as to the ultimate policies of the Obama administration with regards to handling of terrorism suspects. It is far more difficult to change course on a policy in effect than to make policies when starting with a clean slate. Realistically I also voted for Obama expecting a considerable improvement in policy, not with any expectations of  total agreement with everything done by Obama. I continue to remain optimistic that when Obama leaves office we will have government policies which are greatly superior to those present when Obama took office.

Another area in which Obama has been resisting taking sufficient  action is in investigating the previous offenses of the Bush administration. The editorial later argues:

Mr. Obama also should stop resisting an investigation of Mr. Bush’s policies on terrorism, state secrets, wiretapping, detention and interrogation. We know he is struggling with many Bush-created disasters — in the economy, in foreign policy and on and on. But understanding all that has gone wrong is the only way to ensure that abuses will truly end. That investigation should be done calmly rather than under the pressure of some new, shocking revelation.

I fear that Obama believes that avoiding such investigations is part of his desire for post-partisanship and to move beyond the political battles of the past. Unfortunately ignoring the past does not put an end to such partisanship, as we saw with Dick Cheney’s recent attacks upon Obama. Even more seriously, failing to take adequate action in response to such violations of law only encourages their repetition under a future administration.

To Dick Cheney the lesson of Watergate was that the Executive Branch must do even more to secure its power. Gerald Ford, like Barack Obama, desired to put aside the political battles of the past. He made the tragic mistake of pardoning Richard Nixon who should have been imprisoned if this is truly a nation of laws and not of men.

The failure to punish Richard Nixon preserved the atmosphere of the president being above the law, teaching the wrong lesson to Dick Cheney. While there is no guarantee he would have behaved any differently had Nixon been punished, such an action would have inhibited other presidents from acting as if they were above the law. We must now investigate the crimes of the past eight years and allow justice to take its course, regardless of how high up in the government this goes.

Describing Democrats and Liberal Values

A writer at The Other McCain acknowledges and comments upon my recent “entry” into their contest to describe the Democratic Party:

The Liberal Values Blog (which title, one could argue, is an oxymoron), offered this entry into the Describe the Democratic Party in 20 Words or Less contest:

People with a wide variety of beliefs who oppose the authoritarianism and incompetence of recent Republican rule.which entry affords me three words to append “opting for worse”

Their appendage of “opting for worse” is clearly a matter of opinion. This phrasing does seem to sound like an acceptance of the description of Republicans.

Many conservatives show their lack of understanding of  both politics and morality (or values) as they believe that only they have values. In the case of conservatives such as Robert Stacy McCain, holding values comes down to following what they believe is the word of God as I discussed here. Only such conservatives would fail to recognize these liberal values as values (regardless of whether they agree with them):

  • Support for individual liberty
  • Support for a free market economy in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed based upon their own actions
  • Tolerance of others living a life style different from your own
  • Support for a sensible foreign policy which defends the country while respecting principles such as the Geneva Convention and follows international law opposing the use of  torture
  • Making health care accessible to all, as is the case in every other industrialized nation
  • Taking care of the environment which we all depend upon
  • Support for basing political decisions based upon empiric data as opposed to religious belief
  • Respecting the rights of all to worship or not worship as they choose, which can only be guaranteed by respecting the goal of the Founding Fathers to establish a secular government
  • Respect for science as the best way to understand the universe

Hedging Our Bets (An Independent View)

The contradictory data in recent polls show the problem faced by independents. I do not like the idea of one party controlling both houses of Congress by large margins along with the White House but we do not have an acceptable opposition party. Charlie Cook writes:

In the new National Public Radio poll conducted by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and its Republican counterpart, Public Opinion Strategies, 42 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed March 10 to 14 said that if the next congressional election were held today they would vote for the Republican candidate; an identical percentage of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic one. For several years, Democrats held a substantial lead on this question.

Democrats still outnumbered Republicans in terms of party identification in this poll by 6 points, 45 percent to 39 percent. Democrats also favored their own party’s congressional candidates 83 percent to 7 percent. But voters who call themselves independents gave GOP candidates the edge by 14 points, 38 percent to 24 percent. And self-identified Republicans supported their own party’s candidates 85 percent to 3 percent.

So far this sounds terrific for the Republicans and like bad news for the Democrats. However:

The interesting thing about the recent NPR poll is that on many levels, the public expressed much more agreement with and sympathy for Democrats than with Republicans, yet the parties were tied in the generic ballot test. Bolger argues that the poll shows that although Republicans still “have their work cut out for them,” the public doesn’t want to give President Obama and the Democrats in Congress a blank check.

Independents do not want one party to have a blank check but we also find that the views of the Democrats are far more consistent with our beliefs than those of the Republicans. The Republicans may or may not do well in the off year elections in 2010 as the opposition party generally does. History does not generally move in straight lines, but the overall trend, regardless of what happens in the next election, is that the Republicans are on a downward spiral unless they abandon views which a substantial proportion of independents find objectionable.

It is far too soon to predict what will happen in the next election, but whatever happens, independents will play a major role, as we did with the election of Obama and with ending the Republican control of Congress:

The simple facts that self-identified Democrats still outnumber Republicans and that Democratic voters support Democratic congressional candidates 83 percent to 7 percent underscore the importance of independent voters. Many Democratic congressional leaders shake their heads with disdain or in disbelief over what they see as the Obama White House’s preoccupation or even obsession with pleasing independent voters by promoting bipartisanship, but reaching across party lines is critical to Obama’s success. Independent voters do not like partisanship, whether it is practiced by Democrats or Republicans. If Republicans really have pulled even or slightly ahead among independent voters, that is a very ominous sign for Democrats, an indication that Obama’s talking the talk of bipartisanship isn’t sufficient and that he and the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill have to walk the walk.

It isn’t so much that Obama’s talk of bipartisanship isn’t sufficient but that we continue to have doubts about the Democratic Congress. Besides, if an election was to be held based upon their attitude towards bipartisanship, the Democrats would still win in a landslide despite their faults. The biggest questions now for independents are whether the Democratic economic plans will work and whether the Republicans have learned anything from being thrown out of power. So far the Republicans remain on the wrong side of the issues with many believing that they lost because they were not conservative enough. Just watch them try to run a ticket in 2012 with Sarah Palin at the top and we will see even losses by the GOP.

The Pope’s Anti-Life Views

The Economist on the Pope’s trip to Africa:

Asked about the use of condoms to help tackle the scourge of AIDS, the pope restated, in unusually explicit terms, the church’s position that these are not useful to “overcome” the epidemic, indeed their use actually makes the problem worse. He suggested the disease could be beaten through chastity, abstinence and “correct behaviour”. Speaking in a continent where more than 20m people have died from AIDS and another 22.5m are infected with HIV, his statement sounded otherworldly at best, and crass and uncaring at worst. Merely wishing away human sexual behaviour does nothing for the potential victims of AIDS, many of whom are innocent under even the most moralistic definition of that word.

The article concludes:

It need not be that way. Three years ago Pope Benedict was willing for his council for health to consider whether condom use would be a “lesser evil” than allowing the spread of a deadly virus. Liberal cardinals had suggested that in a marriage where one partner is infected, condoms should be permitted. In Africa, as elsewhere, many Catholics simply ignore the Vatican’s view on condoms anyway.

The pope now seems immovable on the issue. His words on condoms and AIDS look particularly heartless in light of a scandal in Brazil that also casts the Catholic church in a poor light. An archbishop there excommunicated doctors for performing an abortion on a nine-year-old girl who had been raped repeatedly by her stepfather and made pregnant with twins. The girl’s mother was also expelled from the church; the rapist was not. The Vatican has made a partial retreat, criticising the haste with which the decision was made—and, eventually, the decision itself. In this and in its views on condom use to combat the spread of AIDS, the Vatican risks seeming callous to the plight of the weakest, surely those whom the church should strive hardest to protect.

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