Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

Quote of the Day: David Letterman On Jeb Bush Running For President

“I feel like Bush presidencies are like ‘Godfather’ films. You should stop at two.” –David Letterman

Actually I think Bush presidencies are more like The Matrix–they should have stopped after the first. (Except that the first movie was good, the first Bush presidency wasn’t, but the second was far worse like with the movies.)

End Of Temporary Increase In Medicaid Payments May Impact Treatment In 2015

The Affordable Care Act has been a tremendous benefit to those who purchase insurance on the individual market, but success has been mixed for the working poor who receive coverage from an expansion of Medicaid as opposed to obtaining private plans. While reimbursement varies by state, it is significantly lower than what Medicare and private insurance plans pay, and often insufficient to meet overhead expenses of private physicians. Many people who might benefit from the expanded Medicaid plan were denied coverage in Republican-controlled states which refused to allow the program, despite the vast majority of the costs being paid by the federal government, following a Supreme Court decision allowing them to opt out of the program. There are also concerns as to whether those covered by Medicaid will be able to obtain sufficient coverage.

In order to increase the number of physicians who accept Medicaid patients, the Affordable Care Act provided for an increase in payment to Medicare levels for primary care services for two years. As The New York Times reports, this period ends at the end of 2014, raising questions as to whether as many private physicians will continue to see Medicaid patients. President Obama has recommended an extension of this increased pay but it is unlikely to be approved by a Republican Congress which is more likely to continue to talk about repealing Obamacare as opposed to work to improve upon it.

It is difficult to predict exactly what the impact of the end of the increased Medicaid payment will be. The article does quote one physician of complaining that this was a “bait and switch” tactic. In reality, the federal government was quite open about the two year time frame for the plan, but it is possible that not all physicians paid adequate attention to information available. Private physicians have historically limited the number of Medicaid patients they accept due to the poor reimbursement, among other problems with Medicaid programs, and I doubt that many have taken a significantly larger number in the past two years in response to a temporary plan.

Much of the Medicaid population is treated by clinics and hospital facilities which are paid different from private physicians, with  Medicaid reimbursement representing an improvement over providing free care as in the past. Contrary to claims frequently made at conservative sites, expanding Medicaid does provide significant benefits for many people, but this will not be an ideal situation as long as Medicaid reimbursement is often less than overhead costs for private physicians. Most likely Medicaid patients will continue to be treated by a combination of clinics and by private doctors who take limited numbers of Medicaid patients.

SciFi Weekend Part 2: The Best of 2014

Part 1 of SciFi Weekend looked at shows from the past week, including Last Christmas, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. Part II lists some of the top and most improved shows of the year. The point is not really to rank them so much as to highlight shows worth watching. Really, how do you compare Cosmos to Penny Dreadful? I am at a disadvantage compared to professional television critics as I have neither the professional obligation nor time to watch nearly everything. Therefore this is limited to the shows I have actually watched, and I will address this after the first list.

Rather than list the overall best shows, as most sites are doing, my first list will be limited to shows which premiered in 2014. Lists of all the best shows drive out most of the new shows, and I’m sure you are aware of Game of Thrones by now. I have limited this to shows available in the United States, including a couple which were primarily British shows but available here on cable or streaming. This list is not limited to genre but is biased by my preferences.Therefore Jane the Virgin (CW), listed by many television critics among the best of the year, did not make the list as, regardless of its quality, I still stopped watching after a few weeks due to the large number of quality shows which I’m more interested in.

Top 15 New Shows Of 2014

About A Boy

15.  About A Boy (NBC)

Family friendly sitcoms (or actually sitcoms of any nature) have not done very well on the networks recently. For that matter, relatively few network shows made this list at all. About A Boy, the second attempt to adapt the Nick Hornby novel, finally gets it right, also being a rare case of the television version being better than the movie version. The shows combines saccharin and snark, and can be highly entertaining in episodes where it gets the right percentage of each. Besides an excellent regular cast, Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights and Agents of SHIELD has had a recurring role.

14. The Knick (Cinemax)
Think of this Steven Soderbergh show as being like ER, except set early in the 20th century. I don’t know if they got all the facts right, but it is an authentic look at medicine of the era.

13. Black-ish (ABC)
Another of the rare successful sitcoms premiering recently. It came along at just the right time, when Bill Cosby is no longer on his pedestal

12. Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Imagine if the main characters of classic horror novels all lived in the same city and interacted with each other. I am  hopeful of an even better second season now that the main characters and situations were introduced.

11. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Comedy is doing much better on cable than network television these days. Silicon Valley does a great job of mocking the tech industry.

The Honorable Woman

10. The Honorable Woman (BBC Two/Sundance)
The original story has the feeling of what it might be like if John le Carré were to write a spy novel on the middle east directly for television.

9. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Fox)
Neil deGrasse Tyson was inspired by Carl Sagan as a student. Now he tries to cure some of the scientific-illiteracy which has become a serious problem in this country.

8. True Detective (HBO)
The story had moments of brilliance, and moments when it dragged, but the performance by Matthew McConaughey earned it a spot on most top ten lists.


7. Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Jeffrey Tambor leads an excellent cast in a story about an already dysfunctional Jewish family which now must deal with the father coming out as trans-gender. This is the story which Jill Soloway has been wanting to do since Six Feet Under, and she does an excellent job.

6 .Last Week Tonight (HBO)
This new comedy take on the news came along at the right time, with Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update being awful with the loss of Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert ending his show. John Oliver has done a better job than many others who have attempted to satirize the news with in-depth segments which are likely influence opinions.

5. The Flash (CW)
The best of this year’s attempts to enter the superhero genre. Lighter than Arrow but so far this season more compelling with its ongoing story line.

4. Happy Valley (BBC One/Netflix)
This British crime mystery does a far better job than most of the American counterparts, being far more successful than most other attempts at combining  the personal story of the main character with the mystery.

3. The Affair (Showtime)
Showing the events before the murder from the perspective of two people involved in an affair is a gimmick which works well for the story. When their stories differ are we seeing failings in memory, one or both characters lying, or even the plot of one of the protagonist’s novels?


2. You’re The Worst (FX)
The best new comedy in ages, with an often hilarious look at a couple of flawed individuals, frequently skewering millennials. The show is especially impressive in both gradually developing the supporting characters and telling a story over the course of the season. The season can easily be watched in one or two sittings as one of the best romantic comedies to come along in years, even by those who normally don’t like romantic comedies. It might also be worth rewatching this time of the year as a reminder of how good television can also be educational, showing why it is not a good idea to plug a vibrator into a string of Christmas lights. The more you know.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo in the Emmy award-winning series Fargo

1. Fargo (FX)
A dark comedy and crime drama which does justice to the movie which inspired it, and easily stands on its own. There is both outstanding writing and an excellent cast led by Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Colin Hanks.

Honorable Mention:
Among shows which did not make this list, and which aren’t mentioned elsewhere in this post, there are a some other good shows with a genre element: Gotham (Fox), Outlander (Starz),  How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), The Last Ship (TNT), Leftovers (HBO) (which has made many lists of both best and worst of the year), and Resurrection (ABC).

Some of the new genre shows which were left off this list were intentionally omitted.  Extant (CBS) might have made at least honorable mention if they stuck to the story of the AI child and stayed away from the ludicrous alien plot. Some shows couldn’t be ranked as I have not seen them, but reliable sources have recommended others to me which very well deserve to be highly ranked, and which I will hopefully catch up on later. These include The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). There are also two limited run shows which I have recorded and have heard excellent things about but have not seen yet: Olive Kitteridge (HBO)  and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS).

Most Improved Shows Of 2014

Some shows do better in their first year, often due to first raising a situation, but are not able to sustain the quality for a second season. Sleepy Hollow (Fox) has not been able to maintain the quality of the first season, but perhaps it will improve now that they appear ready to move on to a  new storyline. Orphan Black (BBC America) also couldn’t maintain the quality of the first season, when everything was still a mystery, but still remains better than most shows on television. House of Cards (Netflix) also did not have as great a second season as first but remains worth watching.

There are six shows which many consider better in their second season, or at very least did not deteriorate a bit going into their second season, listed in alphabetical order:

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The show was mediocre until Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. It became much better late in the first season as it mirrored the movie developments, and has become even better this season as it is now ahead of planned Marvel releases.


The Americans (FX)
This was one of the best television shows of 2013 when it premiered, and was even better in its second season. The season was successful for both its season-long mystery and for how it combined the personal and professional lives of the main characters. It did one thing far better than other shows such as Homeland: making good use of a teen-aged daughter.

Arrow (CW)
The second season of Arrow started in 2013 but extended into 2014, allowing the show onto this list.  The second season surpassed the second season. The third season, starting in fall 2014, isn’t as good, but I’m still hoping it will return to the level of the second season.

Hannibal (NBC)
It is just amazing that a show of this quality can be shown on network television.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Actually a close call between the first and second season, with both worth watching.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Another example of a great show becoming even better in its second year, as the show successfully went beyond Piper to tell major stories with other characters.

Once again this list is limited to shows I have actually watched. Based upon recommendations from others, I hear that Rectify (Sundance) was another show with an excellent first season and an even better second season in 2014.

There are a couple shows which might not make a list of the best of the year, but these two shows which improved tremendously from their pilots in 2014:

Selfie Karen Gillan John Cho

Selfie (ABC)
The pilot was awful and the show never recovered, but it has gotten much better over the course of the season. Unfortunately this wasn’t soon enough as the show was canceled. The remaining episodes are being shown on Hulu and, with one left to go, have been worth watching.

Married (FX)
This show initially received more hype than You’re The Worst which followed it, but it was soon apparent that this was by far the weaker of the two. Still Married did manage to improve after a weak pilot and, being on cable during the summer when low ratings were expected, was able to survive to get renewed for a second season.

While I concentrated on second season shows in order to provide more coverage to relatively new shows in the list above, there are a few longer-running shows which have improved this season which are worth noting, also in alphabetical order:

Homeland (Showtime)
The show was at its best with the Brody storyline of the first season and they managed to stretch it out through a second season. The third season was just too much, and they finally let it go. The fourth season was mixed as they tried to reestablish the show with only a cameo from Damian Lewis in a hallucination. Some episodes dragged, including the season finale, but there were also some excellent moments during the season. Homeland not only must contend with the loss of Brody. Now it being criticized by Pakistani officials who are furious about how their country was portrayed.

New Girl (Fox)
I had stopped watching around the time that Nick and Jess were getting together, but heard it is much better with the two broken up but saying dumb things to each other, and I have resumed watching.

Person of Interest (CBS)
This was a good show from the start but every season gets better as the show has successfully transitioned from a procedural mystery of the week with a genre gimmick to a true genre show, which is also topical with current controversies over surveillance.

I added the networks to the show listings after I compiled these lists and find it notable that FX has the top two new shows along with one of the best shows of 2013. As expected, HBO and Showtime are well represented, with CW also doing quite well. Amazon has joined Netflix as a valuable streaming service with original shows. The broadcast networks are represented, partially due to having some successes among the larger quantity of original programing than any other source, but are frequently being beaten in quality by cable and streaming sources, which in some cases are owned by the broadcast networks. Showtime and CW now have better shows than CBS as FX has better shows than Fox.

SciFi Weekend Part 1: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, And Call the Midwife Christmas Specials, Plus Homeland and The Affair Season Finales, The Interview

Doctor Who Last Christmas

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas is a “dreamy-weamy”combination of a variety of Steven Moffat tropes and old movies. The early scenes combined elements of Doctor Who episodes such as Blink, Listen, the Silent from The Impossible Astronaut with the Alien movie series. Instead of not blinking, or not being able to see or remember the alien, the challenge was to not look at or think about the alien. Suddenly the strategy fell apart and we had an attack out of Alien, only to saved by Santa and a gang of toys reminiscent of the Toy Story movies. We even learned how Santa fits all those toys on his sleigh, and it should have been obvious: It is bigger on the inside.

Santa was played by Nick Frost who, with the possible exception of Nick Blood on Agents of SHIELD, is the actor with the best name to fit their role. At first Santa tried to hide his identity: “Sorry about this, girl, we are just three passing perfectly ordinary roof people, doing some emergency roof things.” One of the elves pointed out to Santa that his attempts to hide his identity were not that effective: “You know how you grew the beard as a bit of a disguise? People have picked up on it.” Incidentally the other elf was played by Dan Starkey, who also plays Strax.

Moffat did not hide the allusions to other movies. He recognized Alien with this line, spoken by the Doctor (who happens to be an alien): “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.” Moffat has also stated in interviews that the tangerine at the conclusion of the movie is like the walking stick at the end of Miracle on 34th Street.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreaming

Following the rescue by Santa and the toys, we found that it was all a dream, and ultimately there were dreams withing dreams, with the episode feeling much like Inception. Of course being a Moffat show it was far less structured than Inception. There were certainly many plot holes in this episode, but being a Christmas episode in which Moffat was writing in Santa we need to be more forgiving than in a typical episode. The rules kept changing, but in this case it was often acceptable as we were dealing with changeable logic within dreams. Besides, none of the plot holes were as flagrant as the mass of the moon increasing as an egg comes close to hatching (Kill The Moon), people forgetting the actions of trees to protect the planet (In The Forest Of The Night), or the golden arrow of Robot of Sherwood.

A highlight of the dream sequences was Clara having far better closure with Danny Pink than occurred in Death in Heaven. The scene also used old Moffat tropes again, such as with the chalk board with messages like “Dreaming,” similar to the chalkboard from Listen. The episode also had both Clara admit that she lied about Danny being alive and the Doctor admit that he did not find Gallifrey, leaving them in a better position to go on together from when we last saw them. It also leaves the question open as to whether Gallifrey will play into future episodes.

Unfortunately the BBC had put out a press release immediately after the UK showing announcing that Jenna Coleman was returning, partially spoiling the ending. The scenes in which the Doctor saved an older version of Clara could have worked if Coleman was really leaving the series, and the scenes would have been more convincing before seeing the press releases. I wonder if that might have been the end of the episode if Jenna Coleman was really not returning. Instead, with Jenna Coleman coming back to play opposite Peter Capaldi for at least one more season, that was yet another dream.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Sleigh Ride

While I enjoy Moffat’s work, I also see the point of his critics and do find that his more recent work is not as tightly written as back in the days in which he wrote occasional (and usually excellent) stories under Russell  T. Davies. I do wonder if he does need a good editor to tighten up his plots these days. Some of the plot holes in Last Christmas could have been been handled with some better writing and more concern for details. The storyline would have made more sense if, when the Doctor first explained about the mind crabs, he made a point of saying that their ability to eat their victim’s brain depended upon the victim not realizing it was a dream while being tranquilized, but victims could successfully resist if they realize. The progressive realization that they were having dreams within dreams could then be turned into a battle of wits between the Doctor and the mind crabs. It made little sense that the mind crabs had them dream about being scientists fighting the mind crabs, as opposed to the happier (and individual) dream which Clara had involving Danny. This might have seemed more plausible with an exchange in which Clara specifically asked why the aliens would have themselves present in one layer of the dream. The Doctor could have come up with an explanation such as that at the shallowest levels of the dream their brains did provide them an explanation which was closer to reality.

Of course none of this would have explained why they had the sleigh rid and didn’t just wake up when they figured out that they were having dreams within dreams. The answer to that one is simple. How could you expect Moffat to refrain from doing a scene featuring the Doctor flying Santa’s sleigh over London in the most exciting sleigh scene since Santa flew from Central Park through midtown Manhattan in Elf?

The Doctor Who Extra for Last Christmas follows:

While most television shows in the United States now go on  hiatus around the holiday, networks in the U.K. instead often have some of the major episodes of their top series on Christmas Day. There must be some sociological significance to how each country handles television so differently around Christmas. In addition to Doctor Who, two others were of particular interest, involving shows which also have a following in the United States. As US viewers are behind the UK, I will avoid spoilers on these two shows.

Downton Abbey Christmas Special 2014

Downton Abbey had an excellent Christmas episode which essentially serves as the season finale for the show, wrapping up a few major plot lines from the fifth season and providing a potential hint of what is to come next season. I don’t want to say anything else as none of the fifth season has been on here yet, with any discussion of the topics of the episode likely to spoil events of the season. I’ll just say that the season is more satisfactory with this conclusion added on.


The Christmas episode of Call the Midwife was the first since the departure of Jessica Raine. Fortunately the show had developed an excellent ensemble which should allow the show to survive her departure, even if she was a major element. Miranda Hart returned to a major role and instead of young Jenny staring in the main story, Vanessa Redgrave appeared as both narrator and on screen at the start and end of the show. The episode does show include character development for some of the remaining characters. Among the story lines is an aspect of the work of the midwives not seen before–handing pregnancies for young, unmarried women who leave town for the birth of their babies.

Besides the Christmas episodes, there were two new episodes of shows of significance in the past week. Homeland‘s season finale was a real disappointment. They would have been better off ending the season after last week’s episode. The Affair ended its first season with a much stronger finale. They certainly put out enough circumstantial evidence to make Noah’s arrest appear inevitable, and he didn’t help his case by attempting to bribe a witness. As there is still at least another full season to come, it seems a safe bet that Noah really is not guilty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is covering up for Alison.

The Interview dominated the news with regards to holiday movie releases. This was more because of the Sony hacking and threats to dissuade them from releasing it, and not due to the quality of the movie. I still might stream it this weekend, but the reviews have not been very good:

“Characterizing it as satire elevates the creative execution of the film’s very silly faux assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un far beyond what it merits,” writes Betsy Sharkey in the Lost Angeles Times.

In the Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek writes that “The Interview” is “contrived absurdity” and that it has very little payoff for all the trouble it caused.

Slate’s Aisha Harris argues that those looking for a satire of North Korea are better off re-watching “Team America: World Police,” the puppet movie created by the makers of “South Park” more than a decade ago.

While Part 1 of SciFi Weekend concentrates on reviews of the past week, Part 2 will look back on the entire year.

Avengers Assemble To Sing Christmas Carols

Captain Picard Sings Let It Snow

It’s A Wonderful Downton Life

An alternative-universe Downton Abbey which shows what would have happened if Lord Grantham had never lived, in an homage to It’s a Wonderful Life. Features appearances by Jeremy Pivens and George Clooney. It is part of a Text Santa fund raiser on ITV.

Mathew McConaughey’s Voice Used To Tell Jim Harbaugh That Sometimes You Have To Go Back

A fan-made video used the voiceover from Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercial to deliver a message to Jim Harbaugh to come  home to Ann Arbor.