Quote of the Day

“Maybe this is crazy, but I think the right to own a gun is trumped by the right not to be shot by one.”  –Andy Borowitz

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who Stamps; Star Trek Into Darkness; Fringe; 2013 in SciFi; Alison Brie as Captain America

The top stories of the week in genre and cult television were the Christmas episodes of Merlin, Doctor Who, and Downton Abbey, which I previously looked at here.

Baker Stamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Smith Stamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Mail will be releasing a set of stamps in March to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. All eleven Doctors are present. The Tom Baker Matt Smith stamps are above. The full set, along with a Dalek stamp from1999, can be seen here.

John Harison Star Trek Into Darkness

Korean interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek Into Darkness had a few interesting comments, such as this from Benedict Cumberbatch on his character, John Harrison:

He is an extraordinary terrorist of sorts. He uses himself as a warrior with weapons and close hand combat to just reap devastation and havoc wherever he goes and a trail of destruction follows him. What is interesting from an acting point of view — beyond doing the stunts and choreographed fight sequences….was also the psychological warfare that he acts out. He has an incredible ability to control people’s minds to his bidding and make them – well confuse the radar of their loyalties and prerogatives, so that was great fun. So it was a great mixture of intense acting scenes and action scenes.

J.J. Abrams decided against directing the next Star Wars movie:

There were the very early conversations and I quickly said that because of my loyalty to Star Trek, and also just being a fan, I wouldn’t even want to be involved in the next version of those things. I declined any involvement very early on. I’d rather be in the audience not knowing what was coming, rather than being involved in the minutiae of making them.

Genre television shows are frequently downloaded or streamed due to different broadcast days and times in the United States and the U.K. There will be no need to download the series finale of Fringe. It will be simulcast by Fox and Sky1.

Wonder what will happen in 2013?I09 reviewed events from 2013 in science fiction books, television shows, and movies.

Allison Brie as Captain America

I’m not sure what the story is behind this picture of Alison Brie as Captain America. Most likely it is Photoshopped, but I wonder if Community is doing their take on The Avengers.

Republican Priorities

Obama summed up the main priority of the Republicans on Meet the Press today:

I offered not only a trillion dollars in– over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

Turns out they have a second priority, cutting Social Security benefits:

Negotiations to reach a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year broke down, at least temporarily, on Sunday after Republicans requested that a deal include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiaries programs like Social Security and slow their growth.

Disagreement over Social Security is being called a major setback in the fiscal cliff negotiations today.

Update: Republicans appear to have taken Social Security cuts off the table for now. While they might not demand these cuts as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations they do plan to bring this up again in 2013.

Question of the Day

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There was a time when this wasn’t the case

There Really Is A War On Christmas

While the American right wing and Fox are whining about nonsense in the United State (appealing to the need of conservatives to feel like a victim) it turns out there really is a war on Christmas–in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.

The raid is the latest in a string of religious crackdowns against residents perceived to threaten the country’s strict religious code.

The host of the alleged Christmas gathering is reported to be an Asian diplomat whose guests included 41 Christians, as well as two Saudi Arabian and Egyptian Muslims. The host and the two Muslims were said to be “severely intoxicated.”

The guests were said to have been referred to the “respective authorities.” It is unclear whether or not they have been released since.

The kingdom, which only recognizes Islamic faith and practice, has in the past banned public Christmas celebrations, but is ambiguous about festivities staged in private quarters.

Saudi religious police are known to detain residents of the kingdom at whim, citing loose interpretations of Sharia and public statements by hardline religious leaders to justify crackdowns.

Saudi Arabia’s head mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah had previously condemned “invitations to Christmas or wedding celebrations.”

Why The Polls Underestimated Obama’s Support

There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere today about why the polls underestimated Obama’s lead in the 2012 election. Obama won by four points while most polls showed him with a smaller lead. While those studying the polls in depth might find other reasons, I was not surprised as I had discussed possible reasons why the polls might be underestimating Obama’s lead prior to the election. These include under-counting Latinos and exclusive cell phone users. I also felt during the campaign that Obama had greater up-side potential than Romney if he could get his coalition out to vote. Since the election we have heard a lot about how good Obama’s ground game was, and how poor Romney’s was.

Pollsters adjust the raw numbers based upon their model of the actual voters. While conservatives accused the pollsters of being biased against Romney and predicting a higher percentage of Democrats in the electorate, the electorate in 2012 did turn out to be more favorable demographically to Obama than most predicted. Having a larger number of young and minority voters overlaps with the points I previously made about polls potentially underestimating Latino voters and cell phone users (who tend to be younger.) It certainly helped Obama that blacks turned out in a higher percentage than other minority groups. and possibly at a higher percentage than white voters.

Polls are also just a snapshot of a given point in time. The fact that Obama had a far better final week of the campaign might have given him a greater margin of victory than if the election was a week earlier. During the final week Obama benefited from favorable jobs numbers and favorable response to his handling of the storm hitting the east coast, including the pictures of him with Chris Christie.

Poll aggregation presented another issue when polls with different degrees of accuracy were lumped together:

Real Clear Politics began the practice of averaging polls before the 2002 midterm elections. RCP was joined by Pollster.com–which is now part of The Huffington Post–four years later. “Pollster started in 2006, and we were really building on what Real Clear Politics did,” founding Coeditor Mark Blumenthal said. The statistician Nate Silver began a similar practice in 2008, and his site, FiveThirtyEight, was acquired by The New York Times shortly thereafter. More recently, the left-leaning website Talking Points Memo started its PollTracker website before the 2012 election.

Each of these organizations differ in their approaches. Real Clear Politics does a more straightforward averaging of the most recent polls. TPM‘s PollTracker is an aggregation involving regression analysis that uses the most recent polls to project a trajectory for the race. FiveThirtyEight and HuffPost Pollster use polls, adjusting them for house effects–the degree to which a survey house’s polls lean consistently in one direction or another. FiveThirtyEight also uses non-survey data to project the election results.

All four of these outlets underestimated Obama’s margin of victory. Both Real Clear Politics and PollTracker had Obama ahead by only 0.7 percentage points in their final measurements. HuffPost Pollster had Obama leading by 1.5 points, while FiveThirtyEight was closest, showing Obama 2.5 points ahead of Romney in the last estimate. The aggregators that came closest to Obama’s overall winning margin were the ones that attempted to account for pollsters’ house effects.

Rasmussen threw off the average with its Republican bias, typically having a two percent house effect. It was easy to throw out Rasmussen. It was harder to feel comfortable ignoring Gallup, which also was more favorable to Republicans. Here is a Fordham University study ranked the polls.

1. PPP (D)
1. Daily Kos/SEIU/PPP
3. YouGov
4. Ipsos/Reuters
5. Purple Strategies
6. NBC/WSJ
6. CBS/NYT
6. YouGov/Economist
9. UPI/CVOTER
10. IBD/TIPP
11. Angus-Reid
12. ABC/WP
13. Pew Research
13. Hartford Courant/UConn
15. CNN/ORC
15. Monmouth/SurveyUSA
15. Politico/GWU/Battleground
15. FOX News
15. Washington Times/JZ Analytics
15. Newsmax/JZ Analytics
15. American Research Group
15. Gravis Marketing
23. Democracy Corps (D)
24. Rasmussen
24. Gallup
26. NPR
27. National Journal
28. AP/GfK

New York Magazine spoke to Public Policy Polling’s director about how he got it right:

When I talked to Tom Jensen, PPP’s director, this morning, he was understandably in the mood to gloat. “These supposed polling experts on the conservative side are morons,” Jensen crowed. “Jay Cost” — the Weekly Standard’s polling expert who’d waged a number-crunching war against PPP — “is an idiot.” But Jensen conceded that the secret to PPP’s success was what boiled down to a well informed but still not entirely empirical hunch. “We just projected that African-American, Hispanic, and young voter turnout would be as high in 2012 as it was in 2008, and we weighted our polls accordingly,” he explained. “When you look at polls that succeeded and those that failed that was the difference.” Given the methodological challenges currently confronting pollsters, those hunches are only going to prove more important. “The art part of polling, as opposed to the science part,” Jensen said, “is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the equation in having accurate polls.”

Christmas Episodes: Doctor Who, Merlin, and Downton Abbey

drwho-snowmen_confrontation

Three British cult television shows, Doctor Who, Merlin, and Downton Abbey, had special episodes for the holidays. Doctor Who: The Snowmen aired in the United States later the same day, but the fifth season of Merlin and third season of Downton Abbey have not and therefore this post will contain major spoilers. I will precede the discussion with the later two with a picture from the series to allow those who do not want to see these spoilers to turn away. I will discuss Merlin second as the spoilers will not be as shocking to those who can predict where the story is heading based upon the Arthur legends. The events of Downton Abbey would be more of a surprise. By now I wonder if there are there any Downton Abbey fans who are waiting for the US airing who have avoided hearing about the two shocking events of the regular season and Christmas episode? If so, they should either download the season now and watch it quickly or stay off the internet and stop reading newspapers and magazines until they  see the entire third season.

Doctor Who: The Snowmen contained two main story lines. The main plot of the story dealing with the Snowmen and the villain of the episode were not all that significant, unless the reference to the Great Intelligence foreshadows a future aspect of the storyline as opposed to references to a couple of old episodes from the 1960′s (which did include havoc in the London underground).  The Snowmen‘s real importance was in reintroducing Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), first seen as Oswin Oswald in Asylum of the Daleks. Not surprisingly, there was some misdirection from Steven Moffat and Jenna-Louise Coleman, who did not answer questions about her role with the full truth in recent interviews.

One highlight of the episode was Clara’s first view of the inside of the TARDIS, after climbing up stairs into a cloud for a second time. Her response was a first: “It’s smaller on the outside!” Her next question was also a first, and confirmed her connection to Oswin Oswald, when she asked if there was a kitchen inside because she likes to make souffles. Clara earlier had the right word (Pond) to get the Doctor’s attention. Most likely this was thrown in for the viewers, but perhaps knowing to say this is another sign that Clara is not what she seems.

The episode, written by Steven Moffat, who also writes the modern BBC version of Sherlock, contains two homages to Sherlock Holmes. Vastra and  Jenny (with the help of Strax) solved Victorian mysteries,providing the inspiration to Arthur Conan Doyle. This lesbian detective pair were different from the detectives portrayed by Doyle: “Good evening, I am a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife.” The Doctor also portrayed Sherlock Holmes: “Shut up! I’m making deductions! It’s very exciting!”

If there was any doubt from the souffle line that both of Coleman’s characters were connected, this was answered at the end. The souffle girl died a second time, still leaving her well behind Rory in number of deaths for a companion. Her tombstone read Clara Oswin Oswald. Her final words to the Doctor were the same in both The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks: “Run, you clever boy… And remember.” The Doctor showed he planned to do just this, seeming to give Clara Oswin Oswald as the destination to the TARDIS. The episode ended with a girl also played by Jenna-Louise Coleman in modern times visiting Clara’s grave. Moffat has launched another mystery with this girl who,  somewhat like Timelords, can die and yet remain alive, except in her case still look the same.

merlin-reveals-magic

The final season of Merlin was mixed in quality, but the final three episodes, including the two-part story Diamond of the Day, were excellent.  Merlin concluded as the Arthur stories conclude–with Mordred delivering a mortal blow to Arthur. Like Morgana, who was not shown to be evil until the third season, Mordred was not portrayed as a threat to Arthur until he was given reason to turn against Arthur in the final episodes. Diamond of the Day Part I concentrated on the final battle, which concluded early in Part II. The final episode showed the deaths of Mordred and Morgana, but primarily dealt with Merlin and Arthur in what turned out to be the final hours of Arthur’s life.

Merlin and Arthur had the conversation which would have been expected to occur long before as Merlin revealed that he is a sorcerer. Fortunately for the legend of Merlin, Gwen figured out the identity of the sorcerer who led them to victory, presumably leading to the legend of the bearded wizard who aided Arthur as opposed to stories of a young servant. Before it became clear that Merlin was to tell Arthur’s story until its conclusion, I wondered if the entire series was to be about Merlin and Arthur in their youth, taking place before the greatness of Camelot. Seeing how the series did end, I do wish that during the final season they had done more to show why Arthur was a great king, worthy of being remembered in legend. The final season, which was the only one to show Arthur as King, just didn’t show Arthur’s life to be as significant as it was foretold to be in earlier seasons.  Regardless, it was sad to see Arthur die, but we were promised that Arthur would return when needed. For now, Long Live the Queen, as Guinevere took over for Arthur. I would assume that Merlin would remain to assist her, and we saw at the end of the episode that he remains alive today.

Just Desserts

The deaths this season on Downton Abbey were more shocking than the deaths of Clara (which may not be permanent) and of Arthur (which was anticipated). This is a reminder that major spoilers are coming for those who have not seen the third season yet. The news media stories that Dan Stevens (Matthew) would not be returning for the fourth season were true but the reports that he would return for the first episode only appear to be misdirection. Maggie Smith, in the scene pictured above, foreshadowed Matthew’s death when she said “we don’t always get our just desserts. The scene was  interspersed with scenes of Matthew driving (and looking careless) following the birth of his son.

It turns out that Dan Stevens had decided not to return for a fourth season even before filming began for the third season. Stevens said, “We were always optioned for three years.” At that time it is doubtful anyone would have predicted how successful the show would have become, leading to a fourth season. He If he had to leave the show, the season did wrap up Matthew’s story line well. Matthew saved Downton financially earlier in the season, and the importance of his actions was emphasized in the Christmas episode. There were also happy moments in the episode, as Mary and Matthew had a son. In retrospect we were also told that Matthew’s role in the series had ended as Mary described this as the two completing their jobs, providing a heir for Downton. There will now be two children at Downton lacking a parent. Tom Branson still isn’t completely comfortable in his role, but he has become part of the upstairs cast following the death of Lady Sybil earlier in the season. Branson, and a new maid, did learn the social implication of his new role in this episode.

It does appear that one new character might be added to the cast. Like the original Upstairs, Downstairs, a young and wilder niece (who already visited earlier in the season) is coming to live with the family, and might open up potential new story lines. With Downton Abbey you can’t predict if this will be a permanent edition, or just a brief visit from someone who will soon be forgotten as with Shirley MacLain’s character in the third season.

Downton Abbey Birth

War on Christmas Wrap Up

The war on Christmas is over this season, with Christmas once again coming despite the paranoia of the right. In the video above, Sam Seder mocked the war on Christmas in 2005:

SEDER: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it’s almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Seder also spoke of operational ties between between Santa and Al Qaeda.

Thomas J. Brown wrote this parody of The Night Before Christmas:

‘Twas the war on Christmas

‘Twas the month of December and all through the land,
Decorations went up, stores were looking quite grand.
With strings of lights in my eye, silver bells in my ear,
I could tell without doubt that Christmas was here.

The children were eager from the usual cause
Of waiting for presents from old Santa Claus.
And I too will admit to being agog,
To finally drink my annual egg nog.

But while shopping for presents, there arose such a clatter,
The shoppers all stopped to look what was the matter.
A grinch of a customer was causing a scene,
Spoiling a moment that should be serene.

Her voice loud and high-pitched, as shrill as a fox,
She was waving her arms, as if ready to box.
What cause of her anger? ‘Twas an innocent phrase;
The clerk had but wished her, “happy holidays.”

The poor pimpled lad in the ugly red sweater,
He made no defense, he spoke not a letter.
With a tug on my arm, my wife said, “let’s go,”
But something inside caused me to say, “no.”

The full poem can be read here.

Doonesbury showed how the War on Christmas was handled at Fox:

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Jenna-Louise Coleman on BBC Breakfast

Jenna-Louise Coleman interviewed earlier today on BBC Breakfast, discussing her role as Clara, the Doctor’s new companion. She refers to the question as to how she and Oswin are related as a soft mystery which will not be answered yet.

A Conservative Wish For A New GOP

As I last pointed out a couple days ago, this is not a good time for serious conservatives. Despite constantly repeating his name in speeches, the Republican Party has become so extreme, and so unwilling to engage in the type of negotiations and compromises necessary for government, that there would be no place for Ronald Reagan in the party today. In that post I quoted Andrew Sullivan. Many other conservatives, such as Bruce Bartlett, have the same complaints. Moderate political scientists such as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have discussed the problems to the nation caused by the extremism of the current leaders of the Republican Party. Today Mark McKinnon writes that all he wants for Christmas is a New GOP:

What I want for Christmas is a new Republican Party. Or I’ll take the old Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush. What I don’t want is the Republican Party we have today. As former George W. Bush and John McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the Stupid Party.”

All sanity seems to have left the ranks of those in charge of the GOP—or, more accurately, those who want to be in charge. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) demonstrated in a jaw-dropping performance Thursday on Morning Joethe depth of the problem and why we are bound to go over the fiscal cliff. He made it clear he won’t vote for a tax increase on anyone, no matter how much they make. So, by his logic, we will end up going over the cliff, and raise taxes on everybody, because he and too many others like him in the party are unwilling to raise taxes on anyone. This intransigence will also make a core Republican tenet of broader tax reform more difficult to pursue because the new Congress will then be fixated on smaller bore issues like fixing the rates.

But there’s more. Huelskamp’s response to the Newtown tragedy? No need to change any gun laws. (Not even better enforcement of the laws we have?) And those who suggest any changes are simply “politicizing” the situation to fit their political agenda. Was George W. Bush “politicizing” 9/11 when he created the Department of Homeland Security? If so, then by all means shouldn’t we “politicize” in the wake of a national tragedy?

Other Republican elected officials said they wanted to wait to see what the National Rifle Association had to say. On Friday, Wayne LaPierre delivered. No new gun laws, but how about an armed guard in every school, because “the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Then LaPierre went on to blame every other facet of our culture for the problem. Now, I don’t disagree that much goes into the cultural equation causing violence, and much needs to be considered to address the root causes, like mental health and violent media. But in 2008, the U.S. reportedly recorded 11,000 gun-related deaths, and Japan recorded 11—and I believe the Japanese play video games. So maybe we should at least include guns in the discussion.

Now, I don’t think more security in our schools is necessarily a bad idea. But it begs the question of funding and federalizing local control of schools, two concepts deeply out of vogue with Republican orthodoxy. And reality.

But here’s the deeper point and the bigger problem for the GOP. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing.

Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.

And so, we have a Republican Party today willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100 percent in accordance with its core beliefs and principles. That’s not governing. That’s just lobbing hand grenades. If you’re only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.

Ronald Reagan was long thought to be the most conservative of Republicans. And by any standard today he is the most popular Republican in modern history. Yet he raised taxes 11 times, supported a ban on assault rifles and the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks, and established amnesty for 3 million undocumented workers.

No one questioned Reagan’s principles or values. But he was seen as great because he had the ability to maintain his principles while adapting, evolving, and negotiating as the world around him changed. When I raise these issues, many of my Republican friends respond, “We will not become a stronger Republican Party by acting more like the Democratic Party.” And I say, “No, we become a stronger Republican Party by acting like reasonable human beings who acknowledge reality.”

The world is still changing. Faster than ever. And so should the Republican Party. Or condemn itself to a smaller and smaller base of core supporters and permanent minority status.