SciFi Weekend: Series Finales of Lost, 24, and FlashForward

The major event of the week, as well as the entire season, was the finale of Lost. I reviewed the episode here and having more time to reflect upon it (and watch portions again) I appreciate its greatness even more. Some have been dissatisfied that it did not explain every mystery during the series but genre shows which develop a complex mythology rarely if ever do. At least Lost was consistent once you accept the underlying premises. You do have to accept the rules which Jacob and the Man in Black operated under without a good explanation, but the conclusion of the series remained true to what they had set up.

Even if not explicitly discussed most of the mysteries can be explained by knowing how Jacob and the MIB were operating. Much can be understood by the MIB’s actions, included taking on the appearance of dead people in order to influence others on the island–most if not all of whom were brought by Jacob in his search for candidates to kill his brother and replace him as guardian of the island. Between the actions of the MIB and the results of Dharma’s experiments, much of what occurred can be explained.

Most likely other events from early on were never answered as the show went in slightly different directions than intended at the time, possibly due to events beyond their control. I think that fans were most frustrated by the lack of a good resolution to Walt’s story. The first season suggested that Walt had some clairvoyant powers or that there was some additional connection between him and the island. We never received an explanation because Walt grew too quickly for the time line of the story on the island, but perhaps they could have provided an explanation at a later date using the adult Walt.

I was somewhat disappointed to find that the sideways sequences took place after everyone had died after having spent the season trying to figure out an explanation for them based upon the assumption that the bomb had worked. We were both mislead into thinking and this was an alternate reality in which Oceanic 815 had not crashed on the island, such as Juliet saying “it worked” before dying, as well as being given hints that it really was about the characters moving on.

The theme of moving on has been raised in previous episodes, such as Michael explaining that the whispers were the people who were trapped on the island because they could not move on. Kate was talking to Jack about moving on, even if leaving it vague enough for both Jack and the viewers to have time to become comfortable with this conclusion. The episode also suggested this  when Hurley told Ben that he had been a good number two, suggesting that we were not dealing with a time line based upon Oceanic 815 not crashing but that this happened after events we had not seen occurred. By the time Jack realized he had died and stated so it was clear that this is what Jack would say.

The story was more about the characters than explaining every mystery, with Jack being the most important character. The story on earth ended with Jack’s death. We know the stories of others who died before Jack but we do not know what happened to those who died after him. Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, Frank and Richard escaped in the  plane. They could have crashed and died five minutes after Jack died but I’d prefer to believe they lived long happy lives back home before dying. Desmond was left injured but with Hurley predicting he’d be okay. We don’t know if he managed to return home and to Penny but perhaps he was assisted in doing so by Hurley.

We know that Ben did remain to be a good number two to Hurley and reportedly we will find out more of what happened in a epilogue appearing on the DVD set to be released August 24. The epilogue tells what happened after Hurley became guardian of the island. This would leave things open to reveal tidbits as to what the other surviving people were doing considering that before him Jacob had no trouble keeping an eye on  his candidates. This would also provide an opportunity to explain other mysteries. On a podcast Jorge Garcia did reveal that the epilogue will give an explanation for the “Hurleybird” which said Hurley’s name during the series.

Also on television this week we say the finale of 24 with Jack on the run, but still alive to return for a movie version. Beyond that it was a fairly mediocre ending to a mediocre season. After the main terrorist threat was eliminated this season concluded with Jack on a rampage going after those responsible, including the current president. It ended too easily as the president suddenly realized she was wrong, decided to turn herself in, but gave time for Jack to run.

FlashForward also had a series finale but it was written to be the season as opposed to series finale. The series was written as a five year arc and earlier the producers had stated it would take at least two years to explain the events around the first flash forward.The episode ended with another flash forward, Janet getting kidnapped, and an older Charlie being told someone (presumably her father) was found and still alive. This served as an excellent cliff hanger but was a poor way to end the series.  Unless someone else picks up the show, which is not likely, I hope that they at least provide an outline of what was to occur after this cliff hanger.

Supporting Israeli Survival While Opposing Israeli Actions

The Israeli raid on relief supplies going to Gaza was certainly a bad move, both on humanitarian grounds and in terms of public relations. It is a shame that so many people are framing the events in Israel and Gaza as being for or against Israel. It is It is possible to understand why Israel has gone to extreme measures,seeing its survival at stake, and to support Israel’s survival, while still opposing some of Israel’s actions.

Supporting Israel”s safety and continued existence is like supporting the United States in defending ourselves against terrorism while also opposing the Iraq War. During the war the question wasn’t one of being for or against the United States (even if many right wingers tried to frame it this way).

Just as American liberals opposed George Bush’s acts in the so-called “war on terror” while still supporting the United States, many American liberals also support Israel while opposing many of its actions, especially when led by those on the far right such as Benjamin Netanyahu.

While written before the current incident, Ezra Klein had an excellent post earlier in the month on The Conflict Between Zionism and Liberalism which was motivated by a response to Peter Beinart’s recent essay in The New York Review of Books. Klein wrote:

This disagreement often falls across generational lines. As Beinart says, young Jews do not remember Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria massing forces in the run-up to the Six-Day War. They do not remember a coalition of Arab forces streaming across the Sinai on Yom Kippur in order to catch the Jewish state by surprise. Their understanding of Israel was not forged watching the weak and threatened state improbably repel the attacks of potent adversaries.

The absence of such definitional memories has contributed to a new analysis of the Israeli situation. Today, Israel is far, far, far more militarily powerful than any of its assailants. None of the region’s armies would dare face the Jewish state on the battlefield, and in the event that they tried, they would be slaughtered. Further stacking the deck is America’s steadfast support of Israel. Any serious threat would trigger an immediate defense by the most powerful army the world has ever known. In effect, Israel’s not only the strongest power in the region, but it has the Justice League on speed dial.

That is not to say that the Jewish state is not under threat. Conventional attacks pose no danger, but one terrorist group with one nuclear weapon and one good plan could do horrible damage to the small, dense country. That threat, however, is fundamentally a danger born of the Arab world’s hatred of Israel. It follows, then, that hastening the peace that will begin to ease that hatred makes Israel safer. Exacerbating the tensions that feed it, conversely, only makes the threat more severe.

And to many of us, it looks like Israel is making the threat more severe. Its decision to pummel the city of Gaza from the air in a misguided attempt to punish Hamas. The ascension of Avigdor Lieberman and the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither an overwhelming assault certain to kill many Arab civilians or a political movement that seeks to disenfranchise Israeli Arabs — whose respected position in Israeli politics has long been a point of pride for Jews — seems likely to begin the long process required to get back to the place where peace is conceivable…

But Israel has to walk with care. Previous generations might have believed in “Israel, right or wrong.” Their replacements may not be as willing to sacrifice moral perspective in service of tribal allegiance. And much more importantly than that, every day that relations with the Arab world don’t improve — or, more to the point, continue to worsen — is another day that Israel remains under threat. For those of us who worry about the state’s safety and believe the primary threat is terrorism combined with more potent weaponry, the continuation of current trends is a terrifying thought.

The Israeli right wing has to learn how their actions are counterproductive to the long term security of their country–much like the actions of the American right wing are counterproductive to our long term security.

BP Oil Spill Provides Opportunities For Obama-Bashers Regardless Of Whether Warranted

The BP oil spill is becoming a litmus test for how people think about Obama. The ability to handle such a matteris hardly a key presidential function (unlike a natural disaster such as Katrina which is a direct responsibility of the federal government.) This doesn’t stop Obama’s critics from trying to find ways to blame him, while generally ignoring all that he has actually done so far in response to the crisis and spreading falsehoods.

George Will even admits that Obama is “being unfairly blamed” for the response to the oil spill but also says “it sort of serves him right.” Will simultaneously admitted Obama is doing all he can under impossible circumstances while also trying to use the issue to raise questions of competence.

I have already responded to other attacks from the right coming from Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan in recent posts. The attacks are not limited to the right. There were also recent attacks from James Carville which made him just came across as another sore loser among the Clintonistas.  It’s not the first time the ragin’ cajun mouthed off before thinking.

The Washington Post has reviewed the politics of the issue and fortunately finds that others are being far more rational in their response. Ed Rogers, who worked in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses is more objective about the limitations on the president:

President Obama’s political managers are all being told that the president needs to “do something.” But when he does he becomes more closely associated with the ugly problem and more responsible for the nearly impossible task of stopping the flow and managing a cleanup that will leave most people unsatisfied…

This is a great American tragedy whose political consequences will linger for years. No one will emerge as a hero, savior or indispensable leader. Instead, the revelation of the limits of our technology, leaders, laws and energy options will leave us all frustrated and in a mood to blame everybody involved.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center has some more significant insights:

Until now President Obama has avoided serious political damage from the government’s handling of the spill, but this may be changing. Recent polling finds pluralities or majorities of the public disapproving of the administration’s response or giving it low marks for its handling of the situation. Even among Democrats, ratings of the administration’s performance have been tepid. The spill is unfolding at a time of exceptionally low levels of trust in government, which may make the public even less forgiving.

Still, unlike Hurricane Katrina, where the government had primary responsibility for dealing with the crisis, until now its role has been secondary to that of BP. And the public has been far more critical of BP for its handling of the crisis.

Although the spill may cause Obama political damage in the short run, it could help him in the longer run with key legislative priorities for his administration: the passage of a comprehensive energy bill and efforts to address environmental protection more generally. The spill has spurred an increase in support for environmental protection, which had declined over the past two years as concerns about the economy pushed aside many other public priorities. While polling by Pew Research and other organizations continues to find at least plurality support for offshore oil drilling, the level of support is much lower than before the spill.

Identity Theft Rules Postponed Again

Just got another reprieve yesterday in having to follow some questionable new government regulations. A court ruling delayed the application of FTC regulations regarding identity theft to physicians. While I sympathize with attempts to stop identity theft, am I supposed to refuse to provide medical treatment if someone comes to my office without a driver’s license? Many of my patients are disabled and do not drive, meaning they might not have ID on them. If I’m going to still see people who don’t have identification there is not much point in asking to see it.

Medical groups have been fighting these rules for quite a while and there have already been many postponements, which is a good thing. On the negative side, once again the Republicans played politics with Medicare payments again. The House passed a correction to the flawed formula which would have brought about a huge decrease in reimbursement but the Senate will not be able to pass it until they return from the Memorial Day recess. As long as it passes quickly the automatic cuts can be restored retroactively as has already occurred this year.

Glenn Beck Attacks Malia Obama

After repeatedly demanding that the families of politicians be left alone (ignoring his own attacks on the Obama family), Glenn Beck attacked Obama’s eleven year-old daughter (video above).  This wasn’t just an isolated line. The routine in which Malia Obama was attacked lasted for eleven minutes with Beck and his co-hosts laughing throughout. Following is the transcript:

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy? Daddy? Daddy, did you plug the hole yet? Daddy?

PAT GRAY (co-host): (imitating Obama) No I didn’t, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy, I know you’re better than [unintelligible]

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Mm-hmm, big country.

BECK: (imitating Malia) And I was wondering if you’ve plugged that hole yet.

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Honey, not yet.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why not, daddy? But daddy–

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not time yet, honey. Hasn’t done enough damage.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not enough damage yet, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah?

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why do you hate black people so much?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) I’m part white, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) What?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) What?

BECK: (imitating Malia) What’d you say?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Excuse me?

BECK: (laughing) This is such a ridiculous — this is such a ridiculous thing that his daughter– (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: It’s so stupid.

BECK: How old is his daughter? Like, thirteen?

GRAY: Well, one of them’s, I think, thirteen, one’s eleven, or something.

BECK: “Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?” Is that’s their — that’s the level of their education, that they’re coming to — they’re coming to daddy and saying ‘Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?’ ” Plug the hole!

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yes, I was doing some deep-sea diving yesterday, and–

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I was doing–

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why–

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, honey, I’m–

BECK (imitating Malia) Why, why, why, why, do you still let the polar bears die? Daddy, why do you still let Sarah Palin destroy the environment? Why are — Daddy, why don’t you just put her in some sort of a camp?

Imagine the outrage from the right if David Letterman had told a joke about an eleven year-old daughter of a Republican. Where was Sarah Palin and why didn’t she protest?

Glenn Beck did ultimately apologize:

In discussing how President Obama uses children to shield himself from criticism, I broke my own rule about leaving kids out of political debates. The children of public figures should be left on the sidelines. It was a stupid mistake and I apologize–and as a dad I should have known better.

I wasn’t sure if he would. Beck does such a great job as acting like a total lunatic that it is easy to forget that he has admitted it is an act (and that people who believe what he says are idiots). Presumably he did realize that he did go too far in his crazy man act.

Politics Made Simple

Republican economic strategy in recent years has been to plunder the nation’s wealth and transfer it from the middle class to the wealthy. Republican political strategy has been to screw up the country as much as possible when in power. When out of power they can then claim that government does not work and blame everything on the other party. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Everything else is just details.

(My current Facebook status–too long to fit on Twitter)

Posted in Republicans. Tags: , . 2 Comments »

Peggy Noonan’s New Criteria For Presidential Competence

I’m never sure what to think of Peggy Noonan. Sometimes she sounds more rational than the typical conservative columnist writing for The Wall Street Journal. Other times she comes up with nonsense like in today’s column bashing Obama over the BP oil spill. Naturally many conservative sites are lapping it up as it attacks Obama.

It is amusing to see writers who normally claim that the role of the federal government should be limited to the functions specifically listed in the Constitution now arguing that the ability to handle an oil spill is the way to measure a president’s competence. The same bloggers who whine that health care is not listed in the Constitution don’t care that oil spills are not mentioned either. Of course they are totally oblivious to how Republican deregulation and hiring of political cronies and industry shills as opposed to competent regulators  contributed to this disaster as I noted yesterday.

If Noonan is going to judge the success of Obama’s presidency based upon this oil spill then she needs to review her own view after Katrina. Blue Texan provides this comparison:

Nooners, today.

I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill.

Nooners, after Katrina.

Is the Bush Era over? No, no, no. It has three more years. That’s a long time. History turns on a dime. There is much ahead, and potential for progress.

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent rebuttal of Noonan’s post:

The premise of Noonan’s moronic column is that the federal government, especially the president, should be capable of ending an oil-pipe rupture owned and operated by private companies, using technology that only deep-sea oil companies deploy or understand. And if such a technical issue is not resolved by government immediately, it reveals paralyzing presidential weakness and the failure of an entire branch of political philosophy. Again: seriously? It’s Obama‘s fault that under Bush and Cheney, government regulation of oil exploration was so poor and corrupt, corner cutting appears to have been routine? And this, Peggy, is what governments do, even when run by crazy-ass liberals. Governments do not dig for oil; they merely regulate those who dig for oil. That the government failed to do so under the previous administration does not seem to me to be proof that this administration has failed. (For a blast of common sense on this, see Clive.)

For Noonan, the American public is concerned only with spending, illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to stop an oil leak. For Noonan, the steepest downturn since the 1930s never happened. For Noonan, the flaws of the healthcare system – like, er, millions have none – do not exist. For Noonan, the massive debt – almost all of which Obama either inherited or built in the emergency attempt to stabilize a global economy heading into an abyss – is evidence that government does not work and that Obama is incompetent. For Noonan, actual difficult practical tasks most adults understand are complex to grapple with – how to prevent a Second Great Depression, how to police thousands of miles of border, how to stop an oil leak deep in the ocean floor – are easy. Just do it. Or be labeled incompetent and doomed.

This is utterly unrelated to the reality I have witnessed these past two years, or the slow catastrophe of misgovernment that really did unfold in the last ten. Maybe that says as much about my cocoon as Noonan’s. But I doubt it. What I have also learned these past few years is that the right seeks merely a narrative to lead themselves out of the hole they dug for all of us. Reality be damned. The job of the rest of us is to insist that reality matters and that these fools be exposed.

Pete Abel adds two additional points:

1. Yes, there’s an obvious and substantial difference between Katrina and Deepwater Horizon. The first was a natural disaster that required a relief effort tailor-made for government intervention. The second is a man-made debacle, requiring specialized expertise to fix; expertise that apparently no one has, although BP seemingly has more than any other entity. Regardless, the current situation makes me more sympathetic to the Bush administration’s travails with the former situation. Both are complex undertakings and those of us who are not directly involved are too damn quick to judge. At least once, possibly more, I suggested the “incompetent” label for Bush, et. al., in the context of Katrina. Noonan does the same for Obama, et. al., in the context of Deepwater Horizon. Increasingly, I believe both characterizations are unfair.

2. In the midst of the Gulf crisis, the President has performed a Solomonesque move. He has ordered “a suspension of virtually all current and new offshore oil drilling activity pending a comprehensive safety review.” He has also balanced that decision with an unflinching commitment to the fact that we must embrace these ventures until petroleum can be more voluminously replaced as an energy source.

“It has to be part of an overall energy strategy,” Mr. Obama said. “I mean, we’re still years off and some technological breakthroughs away from being able to operate on purely a clean-energy grid. During that time, we’re going to be using oil. And to the extent that we’re using oil, it makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources here in the United States and not simply rely on imports.”

Given the Republicans’ drill-baby-drill mindset, shouldn’t they be leaping forward to praise this instance of Presidential discretion?

To be clear: I’m not suggesting the GOP should muffle all criticism. To the contrary: Pointed questions — from both sides of the aisle — are appropriate and necesary to the functioning of the Republic, even (especially) in times of crisis. But wrecklessly fanning the flames of criticism — and yes, I believe, Noonan and like-minded Republicans are being wreckless — is irresponsible and potentially detrimental to one of the GOP’s pet positions.

American Academy of Pediatrics Retracts Compromise Position On Female Genital Mutilation

Last month The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a compromise position on ritual  female genital mutilation which I and many others were critical of.  They have now reconsidered and rescinded this position. CNN reports:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has rescinded a controversial policy statement raising the idea that doctors in some communities should be able to substitute demands for female genital cutting with a harmless clitoral “pricking” procedure.

“We retracted the policy because it is important that the world health community understands the AAP is totally opposed to all forms of female genital cutting, both here in the U.S. and anywhere else in the world,” said AAP President Judith S. Palfrey.

The contentious policy statement, issued in April, had condemned the practice of female genital cutting overall. But a small portion of statement suggesting the pricking procedure riled U.S. advocacy groups and survivors of female genital cutting.

Posted in Health Care. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin Still Does Not Understand The First Amendment

Back during the 2008 campaign I noted how Sarah Palin thought the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect politicians such as herself from criticism by the press. Speaking in Idaho recently Palin showed that she still has not learned what the First Amendment means.  Palin complained about media coverage of a local conservative politician by saying, “I think it’s appalling and a violation of our freedom of the press.”

Palin  showed no respect for the actual First Amendment when she tried to practice censorship in Wasilla (here and here). It makes one wonder what she learned when receiving that degree in communications.

Republicans vs. Secular America

Dan Kennedy warned in The Guardian about the leading Republican candidates who are blatantly disregarding First Amendment rights as they ignore the secular nature of our government as established by the Founding Fathers:

If you’re part of secular America – that is, if you’re an atheist, an agnostic, a religious liberal or even a mainstream believer who thinks religion should be kept out of politics and vice-versa – then you should be very afraid of what the Republican party has in store for you in 2012.

No news there, you might say. The Republicans, as we all know, have been in thrall to the Christian right since the Reagan era. But there’s something new, something more intolerant, something truly ugly in the works. And if you don’t believe me, let’s start with Tim Pawlenty, unassuming governor of Minnesota in his day job, fire-breathing Christian warrior and aspiring presidential candidate in his spare time.

“I want to share with you four ideas that I think should carry us forward,” Pawlenty said on Friday at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC. After invoking “basic constitutional principle and basic common sense,” he continued:

“The first one is this: God’s in charge. God is in charge … In the Declaration of Independence it says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn’t say we’re endowed by Washington, DC, or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government. It’s by our creator that we are given these rights.”

Never mind Pawlenty’s fundamental and no doubt deliberate misreading of the founders’ intent. (Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, is well-known for having cut up a Bible to remove all supernatural references to Jesus.) How, in practice, does Pawlenty envision “God’s in charge” as a governing principle?

Pawlenty didn’t say. But he oozed mild-mannered hatred for anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. In a bizarre closing in which he invoked the civil war general (and future president) Ulysses S Grant as some sort of rough-around-the-edges, proto-Tea Party role model, Pawlenty trashed anyone who attended “Ivy League schools” or who go to “chablis-drinking, brie-eating parties in San Francisco”. (You can watch Pawlenty’s address at, starting at the 1:38:30 mark.) It sounded like a parody of Pat Buchanan’s famous 1992 “culture war” speech. Except that Pawlenty is one of the Republicans’ two most plausible candidates for president in 2012.

The other would be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who fell far short of the prize in 2008, but whose legendary self-discipline has put him in a strong position for 2012.

The trouble is that Romney has already declared war on secular America. In December 2007, you may recall, he delivered a speech in which he defended his Mormon religion at a time when he was under assault from evangelical Christians. It was, in many respects, a sensible plea for religious tolerance.

Except that Romney called for tolerance only among believers, explicitly omitting non-believers. “Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me,” Romney said. “And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.”

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote the next day, “Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.” Brooks – a conservative, though a secular one – warned that Romney was calling for “a culture war without end”.

Kennedy concentrated on Romney and Pawlenty as he considers them early front runners but warns that two potential fringe candidates are even worse:

If you have not seen Sarah Palin asking God to build a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska, well, do yourself a favour right now (see also her recent speech at the Tea Party convention). Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, personifies the Christian right in its purest form. “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ,” Huckabee said in 1998. There is no reason to think he’s changed his mind.

“While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yielded to the evidence which has convinced us,” wrote James Madison.

In contrast to Madison, the Republicans propose a theocracy of believers. It is an assault not just on anyone who isn’t one of them, but on the American idea, and on liberal democracies everywhere.

He excludes Ron Paul from his warnings  but I believe it is only because he has not paid much attention to Paul, not considering him a credible candidate. Despite the common misapplication of the libertarian label to Paul, he also opposes separation of church and state and in many ways is as big a threat to liberty as the establishment Republican candidates.