SciFi Weekend: Lost, Dollhouse, Fringe, and Heroes Finales


There have been at least four more finales of genre shows since my last finale installment of SciFi Weekend. The season finale of Lost (The Incident) aired on Wednesday and is probably the best season finale yet for the show. There were essentially two story lines. The story on the island in the present, along with the flashbacks, centered around Jacob and what appeared to be Locke’s journey to kill Jacob. We found that Jacob has been intervening in the lives of those who wound up on the island for years. We also found that at some time in the distant past Jacob was clashing with someone who was looking for a loophole which would allow him to kill Jacob. The loophole turned out to be impersonating Locke, who we ultimately found really was dead, and then trick Ben into doing the actual killing. There are still many questions, such as whether Jacob is really dead and the implications if this is the case. As it was the smoke monster which previously convinced Ben to do whatever Locke ordered, I also wonder if the smoke monster is another manifestation of or something under the control of Jacob’s adversary.

Back in 1997 the bomb did ultimately go off, presumably explaining why in the present Richard told Sun that he saw everyone die. What is the result of the explosion? Does the explosion prevent the development of the hatch or is this what caused the problem in the first place? With one season to go we can safely assume that everyone did not die in the explosion. Perhaps the explosion worked as Jack intended and their flight never crashed. It is conceivable that the season will began with the appearance that they never crashed, and that something will bring the characters back together and back to the island. Maybe the explosion just managed to send everyone back to the present. If the explosion can change history, any chance that it might also save the planet Vulcan from destruction by J.J. Abrams?


Dollhouse ended the season with Omega, a great episode which worked both as a season finale and, if necessary and as expected, a series finale. It provided more on Caroline/Echo’s back story and completed some of the story lines from the season. It was a much better finale than on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles which ended with a cliffhanger and left many of the threads from the season wide upon. Unfortunately Dollhouse also ended the season with terrible ratings, leaving most predicting it would not return.

Fortunately Dollhouse is not going to be placed in the attic. There was one additional episode filmed but not aired, which will be included on the DVD set to be released on July 28 and which will air in Great Britain. The episode takes the series in a new direction and Joss Whedon used it to demonstrate that he can continue the show’s quality on a smaller budget. Personally I have thought this show was a better fit for HBO or Showtime where he would have had a freer hand and could have better displayed Eliza Dushku’s assets. A show which involves sex is at a tremendous disadvantage creatively on network television when up against shows such as The Tudors. Even Weeds turned to topless scenes this year to increase interest in the show.


Fringe is also returning and both Fox shows will make a little more money for the network by eliminating their policy of limited commercial breaks. I initially was uncertain about Fringe as it has developed its mythology rather slowly. The finale confirmed that the show will be moving forward next season. I imagine it does make sense, even if sometimes frustrating to viewers, to gradually lay out the mythology to avoid the problems of shows such as X-Files which ultimately ran out of places to go.

More Than One ended with Olivia meeting William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy) and realizing she is in a parallel universe after looking out the window. At least since the original Planet of the Apes, well known scenes from New York have been used for dramatic effect. Olivia sees the Twin Towers, ending the season as Life on Mars began. One of the clues that Sam had gone back to the 1970’s was seeing the Twin Towers before they were destroyed.


The Heroes finale, An Invisible Thread, ended an arc which was better than the one from the first half of the season but was still far from the quality of the first season. It felt  like they had decided to end the arc and just threw in a conclusion as opposed to giving the feel of a continued story. The episode ended with Nathan dying but Matt using his mind powers to make Sylar, who was morphed into Nathan’s shape, believe he was Nathan. This does give Zachary Quinto time off if needed for more movies but there are reports he will be returning to the fourth season. Fans could have predicted that something would go wrong with Matt’s mind trick, but to be sure that fans figured it out they showed this in an unnecessary scene tacked onto the episode.

Tomorrow night we have the two hour finale of 24. This possible means Jack will save Kim,  finish off the conspiracy within the government, and find a cure for the biological weapon so he can live on to torture next season.

Obama Cuts Wasteful Government Spending–Stops Funding For Abstinence Based Education

After years of wasteful government spending by the Bush administration on a government program which does not work, Obama is returning some fiscal sanity to Washington. Ed Brayton points out that Obama has eliminated funding for abstinence-based education from the 2010 budget. We are behind the British government on this, as they labeled abstinence-based education a myth back in 2006.

Angels, Demons, & Scientists


Dan Brown writes escapist fiction but I do find it fun to read as he does manage to bring up a few ideas. Angels & Demons was especially interesting to me as it deals with the age old conflict between science and religion. While I have not seen the movie yet, all the publicity from the movie release does seem a good time to mention my thoughts on the book. Caution, there are spoilers here if you plan to read the book and I would assume they also apply to the movie.

The book begins consideration of the fictional work of physicist Leonardo Vetra who used the facilities of CERN to create matter and anti-matter from energy. Vetra was also a priest who saw his work as a means of both advancing science and proving the existence of God. He equated his creation of matter and anti-matter to the moment of creation of the universe. I do not accept the argument that such work would have any bearing on the existence of God as Einstein has already showed the relationship between matter and energy in the opposite direction but for the sake of discussion and enjoyment of the book I am willing to assume that this view  is of significance.

The book begins with the murder of Vetra with the murder attributed to the Illuminati and Robert Langdon is called in to help. My feelings about the book varied as I read it and the view of who the guilty parties were changed as we got more information. When they discussed the history of the Illuminati and the church I naturally supported the scientists who were persecuted for questioning religion. When it appeared that scientists were the ones behind the murders of priests under consideration  to be the next Pope, along with a plot to blow up the Vatican, I could not support the scientists. I was pleased (repeat spoiler warning) to find in the end that the scientists were not the villains and actually it was a misguided conservative at the Vatican who desired to both eliminate more liberal priests in authority as well as to discredit science.

In the end we were to be sympathetic to the scientists and to the liberal members of the church who were the victims and the villain was the opponent of both science and liberalization of the church. I was also pleased to see that it was the religious conservative and not a pro-science Illuminati who had killed Vetra. While Vetra sought to promote religion, he did so by following the scientific method. As is ultimately revealed in the book, it is religious fanatics and not men of science who would be offended by Vetra’s work.

The book was a great page-turner. As it went on some of the suprises became predictable but only as there was some foreshadowing and they were consistent with earlier events in the book. This included the later revelation of who the true villian was, as well as the discovery as to the identigy of his father.

The movie version of Angels & Demons opened one week after Star Trek in a series of late spring blockbusters. Coincidentally there is a connection between the two. I don’t know if any of this made it into the movie, but in the book some of the science is simplified by comparing it to the science of Star Trek. Both anti-matter engines of the Enterprise and photon torpedoes were mentioned.

Dan Brown’s work has been more notable for religious controversy than such consideration of science. Angels & Demons has already come under attack from the Catholic League. Ron Howard, producer of the movie, has found it necessary to write that neither he or the book are anti-Catholic. Brown has antagonized many religious readers with The Da Vinci Code. They are likely to find Angels & Demons far less offensive. While the villain is someone at the Vatican, the book is ultimately sympathetic to liberal views within the church and does deal with attempts to save both priests in danger and the Vatican. The criticism of the church for historical acts against science is hardly unique to Brown’s work and I would assume that discussion of this would not raise the types of objections raised by questioning the divinity of Jesus in The DaVinci Code. While the movie of The Da Vinci Code came out first, the more controversial book was actually the second of the two.Will Brown continue to be as controversial in his next book?

Brown’s follow up novel, The Lost Symbol, is to be released in September. While it has been leaked that it deals with the Masons, little else is known.  Angels & Demons is primarily a thriller which at times felt a little like 24 with most of the action taking place over a four hour period to find a ticking bomb. The book also begins with an attempt at torture but, being more realistic than 24, the torture does not work.  The Lost Symbol reportedly takes place over twelve hours and is rumored to take place in Washington, D.C. and again involves Robert Langdon. I am surprised it is not being released around June to capitalize on the publicity of the movie along with allowing it to dominate lists of books for summer reading. Regardless I’m sure it will be a huge seller.

Breaking Down Conservative Fundamentalism–On Economics

I have often discussed the problems faced by the Republican Party due to their social conservative beliefs, their hostility towards  science and reason,  their poor record on civil liberties, and their national security policies which place the country at greater danger. They are also  increasingly losing support due to their economic views.

Their are two different problems which the Republicans face because of their economic views–the discrepancy between their theories and their policies and the problems with their actual economic theories. The discrepancy between their rhetoric and their policies has been losing them support for years. For example former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips, author of The Emerging Republican Majority, has gone on to write several books showing how Republican economic policies have turned into schemes to use government to transfer greater wealth to the ultra-wealthy. I’ve frequently quoted libertarian Will Wilkinson as saying that “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

A more serious problem is that a growing number of economic conservatives have followed the route I have in questioning the validity of many conservative economic views when testing them against the real world. I’ve recently noted that Richard Posner of  has been criticizing the Republicans for essentially the same reasons I noted at the start of this post as well as questioning some aspects of his former economic beliefs in his recent book Capitalism in Crisis.

Bruce Bartlett in the past has criticized the Bush administration in Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the American Legacy. His criticism was based upon failing to follow conservative economic policies. In his latest book he is now questioning these views:

As a domestic policy advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bruce Bartlett was one of the originators of Reaganomics, the supply-side economic theory that conservatives have clung to for decades. In The Next Economics, Bartlett goes back to the economic roots that made Impostor a bestseller and abandons the conservative dogma in favor of a policy strongly based on what’s worked in the past. Marshalling compelling history and economics, he explains how economic theories that may be perfectly valid at one moment in time under one set of circumstances tend to lose validity over time because they are misapplied under different circumstances. Bartlett makes a compelling, historically-based case for large tax increases, once anathema to him and his economic allies. In The Next Economics, Bartlett seeks to clarify a compelling and way forward for the American economy.

One problem is separating what we want from reality. Many of us who lean libertarian find the concept that everything would be better if the government also stayed out of the economy to be intellectually appealing. To adapt a saying from Special Agent Fox Mulder, “I want to believe.” Unfortunately reality doesn’t give a damn about what any of us want to believe.

This brief summary of Bartlett’s book also suggests another problem. Economic theories might be more valid at one time or under one set of circumstances, but those who religiously follow the views of economists of the past do not have the benefit of seeing how their gurus would respond to the problems of today. The pro-capitalism classical economics were very bright people and had many important things to say about the free market. If they had the benefit of seeing the modern world and could interpret the data which became available long after they died it is likely many would adjust their theories based upon this information. In contrast, many conservatives treat economic works of the past as other conservatives treat the Bible, feeling that their views must be taken literally without taking into account any additional information.

Ludwig von Mises has some important lessons about the failings of Bureaucracy which liberals as well as conservatives should consider. Conservatives use his views to argue that the free market is always superior to government. If he were alive to rewrite this 1944  classic he might see how giant corporations can develop the same bureaucratic problems as big government, and that business does not always use the signals from the market to make rational decisions. Friedrich von Hayek, whose work is often cited by conservatives, also wrote Why I Am Not a Conservative which criticized conservatives for failing to adapt their views to changing times.

Liberals sometimes question why the American right has been characterized by a union of two seemingly different viewpoints–religious conservatives and free market conservatives. Perhaps this is because at heart both are fundamentalists. Many economic conservatives have turned their views into a fundamentalist religion which ignores economic facts  just as religious conservatives ignore evolution and other aspects of science which contradict their fundamentalist views.

Donald Rumsfeld’s Crusade Against Islam

Who would have guessed that Robert Draper (hardly a liberal writer) would have this weekend’s must read article for liberals in GQ (hardly the most significant magazine for current affairs). Draper has some fascinating material on Donald Rumsfeld, especially with regards to the use of Crusade-like religious messages in reports on the war:

Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—“would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages.

As even at least one analyst at the Pentagon realized, the use of such language would have even worsened the belief in the Muslim world that the Bush administration was conducting a religious crusade against Islam. Rumsfeld felt it was more important to appeal to the mind set of George Bush:

The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld’s tactics—such as playing a religious angle with the president—often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration’s best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef’s style—“Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way,” Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings—but it was decidedly Bush’s style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld’s direct invention—and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary.

So Rumsfeld thought he could impress his simple-minded boss by quoting the Bible.


Obama on Star Trek


Star Trek came up in two questions when Newsweek interviewed Barack Obama:

And the last movie you saw?
Now, movies I’ve been doing OK [with] because it turns out we got this nice theater on the ground floor of my house … So Star Trek, we saw this weekend, which I thought was good. Everybody was saying I was Spock, so I figured I should check it out and—[the president makes the Vulcan salute with his hand].

Did you watch that when you were growing up?
I used to love Star Trek. You know, Star Trek was ahead of its time. There was a whole—the special effects weren’t real good, but the storylines were always evocative, you know, there was a little commentary and a little pop philosophy for a 10-year-old to absorb.