SciFi Weekend: Hannibal Finale; Defiance; Mr Robot; Humans; Agents of SHIELD; Outlander and Game of Thrones Spoilers; Galaxy Guest; Russel T Davies Doing Shakespeare; Olive Sacks Dies At 82

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The Wrath of the Lamb, the series finale for Hannibal on NBC, contained a lot of material to provide a satisfactory ending should this be the last we see of these versions of the Hannibal Lecter characters. First there was the dramatic sequence in which Francis Dolarhyde pretended to kill himself, which certainly would have been an unsatisfactory ending if it was real. This led to something we have seen various versions of throughout the series–a plan to capture a serial killer which was doomed to fail.

The episode did finally end with the probable death of Dolarhyde, but the Red Dragon arc as part of the entire series was more about the transformation of Will Graham than it was about Dolarhyde’s transformation into the Red Dragon, or his ultimate fate. The series also provided a sense of closure for Alana and for Chilton should this be the last we see of these characters.

The climax of the episode took place in Hannibal’s home on a cliff where he previously kept some of his victims. Yes, an actual cliff was involved in the series cliff hanger, or at least ambiguous scenes. The scenes there primarily involved Hannibal and Will, until interrupted by Dolarhyde and culminating in as many as three deaths. There are a couple of questions raised by the cliff scene, perhaps foreshadowed by Hannibal’s admission, “My compassion towards you is inconvenient.”

The first question is what was on Will’s mind. Most likely he knew he was becoming a monster like Hannibal, unable to simply return to his new family, and saw the death of both of them to be the best outcome. It remains uncertain as to their actual fate. If watching this episode alone, the assumption would be that they died, but we know much more. We know that the previous season also ended with the apparent deaths of characters who survived. It was not known at the time the episode was written that this would be the series finale, and Bryan Fuller is still trying to keep the show alive in some form. Fans would be no more surprised to see Hannibal and Will survive the fall than they were that Sherlock survived his fall, or that Moriarty might still be alive. We also know from the novels that Hannibal did not die then, but Fuller has already changed elements of the novel so this in itself does not provide an answer.

Then there was that post-credits scene with Bedelia,  foreshadowed both by earlier events of the season and possibly by a comment earlier in the episode that “Meat’s back on the menu.”  Was she off screen the entire time, waiting for Hannibal to return to attempt start eating her? Is the third chair set for Will, who is now a willing party to Hannibal’s cannibalism? Or does the scene take place in the future, indicating that Hannibal, and perhaps Will, survived?

Fortunately after I started to wonder about these questions Bryan Fuller gave several interviews. While he does not completely answer all of these questions, there is major insight into the season finale and the questions raised.

Hannibal Finale Cliff

Bryan Fuller’s interview at TV Guide has more on the relationship between Hannibal and Will which led to that climatic scene:

Hannibal is usually the smartest person in the room. He guessed Will had sold him out to Dolarhyde, so did he not suspect Will might push them off the cliff?
I think he is surprised as he’s tipping back over the edge, but the center of gravity has already betrayed him. He’s falling, and there’s a certain surrender to that. At the same time, he probably acknowledges a certain beauty that Will is falling with him to his death and they’re holding on to each other until impact.

So even in “death,” Hannibal feels like he won the battle?
Absoutely. In that final moment, the murder of Francis Dolarhyde, Hannibal proved himself right about Will. And there’s something very antagonistic about Will saying I’m not going to give you that for very long.

A romantic love between Will and Hannibal was always more of a subtext in earlier seasons, but became actual text in certain conversations this season. Do you think of this ultimately as a love story?
It was a love story from the very beginning – it was romantic horror. One of the reasons that I really wanted to do the project is I really wanted to investigate the depths of male friendships — the intimacy and the power and the loss of self you experience in a brotherhood camaraderie. That was the thing that fascinated me the most and was the root of the story that I wanted to tell.

And yet Hannibal’s love for Will was his fatal flaw.
His compassion for Will always hinged on Will’s ability to understand him in a way that he feels like he has never been understood. I think that is the same gift that Will has received from Hannibal. The core of their attraction to each other is that they truly see other for who they are. Hannibal is glamoured by that. If he wasn’t, he probably would have killed and eaten Will a long time ago.

More on the final scene at Vulture, along with how his version of Hannibal Lecter might be remembered:

How should the viewer read Will and Hannibal falling off the cliff together? Is it a double suicide?
No, I think it’s a murder/suicide. And then of course coming back in and seeing that someone has cut off Bedelia’s leg and is serving it, and she grabs a fork and hides it under her napkin to stab the neck of the person who’s going to come into the room next suggests that either Uncle Robertus and Lady Murasaki are going down Hannibal’s enemies list and checking them off, or that Hannibal may have survived that fall.

Some people have told me that their interpretation of it is that she sawed it off herself, cooked it up, and is waiting for him to come home like, “Honey, I made dinner!” [laughs], which is hilarious…

You’ve said that you wanted Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal to be the definitive one. Do you feel like he accomplished that?
I think for certain portions of the audience, he did. And for those who watch the show regularly, there’s 39 hours of Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter as opposed to six of Anthony Hopkins. But it all depends on who’s speaking to you generationally as that character. Who would you say is your definitive Hannibal Lecter? Still Anthony Hopkins?

Not anymore.

It remains to be seen whether Mads Mikkelsen can surpass Anthony Hopkins as the definitive Hannibal Lecter, but he will also have additional roles to shape his career. He is currently in talks to play the villain in Doctor Strange.

Hannibal Finale Bedelia

TV Line discussed Dolarhyde, and then Bedelia:

TVLINE | Circling back to the Will/Hannibal/Dolarhyde showdown — I felt like we didn’t really know 100 percent what way it was going to go. Will actually says to Hannibal that he intends to see him “changed” by Dolarhyde. And then, at one point, when Hannibal is looking at Will pulling out the knife, I wondered, is he signaling to Dolarhyde with his eyes or is he signaling Will? How did you view the scene? Do you feel like Will and Hannibal were always planning to end the Red Dragon, or was it unclear even to them?
I feel like Will was going there knowing that he very likely would not be able to finish Hannibal himself, because of his feelings for him, and that he needed Francis Dolarhyde to do it for him. And he knew that he may not survive it; it’s something he says several times through the episode. Bedelia says early in the scene with Will, “You can’t live with him, you can’t live without him.” That’s exactly what this is about. Will can’t live without Hannibal, and he knows that in that moment, once they’d experienced a murder together — a vicious, brutal murder where they hack a guy up with a knife and a hatchet — he’s like, “That was kind of fun. That was a good time. In fact, it was beautiful.” There’s a realization of his mind being able to process that experience as a thing of beauty. With that, he knows there is very little chance of him being able to return to humanity, so off they go.

Later in the interview regarding Bedelia:

TVLINE | You gave Bedelia resolution, of sorts, at the dinner table — where her leg is what’s for dinner. Knowing while you edited the hour that it was a real possibility this might be the series finale, was that absolutely where you wanted to end? And why put it after the credits?
Well, you know, I love post-credits sequence. I mean, you see Sherlock and Moriarty go over Reichenbach Falls, and you don’t know what fate befell those characters. By coming back in and seeing Bedelia at a dinner table being served her own leg, grabbing a fork and hiding it under the table and preparing to stab it in the neck of the next person who comes into the room, that’s a great way to tell the audience, “Yes, we have told you completion to this story, but who is serving Bedelia that leg? Is it Hannibal? Did he survive? Is it Uncle Robert is, and is David Bowie behind that curtain? Who’s serving her the leg?”

The longest interview was at Hitflix.com. Here are some highlights:

At what point in the season did you realize that this is how you were going to end it?

Bryan Fuller: Probably about halfway through the season. We’re always looking for a way to end a season in a way we could end the series. We never knew we were coming back. At the beginning of season 3, NBC was talking to me about new development, and that was a pretty big indicator to me that they weren’t planning on picking up a season 4. So I wanted to be sure we had an ending for the story we were telling, but also leave room for a continuation of the tale of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham should we get the option to tell more of it.

So you have an idea in mind in the event of something more where this is not the end of the story?

Bryan Fuller: Right. In my mind, the most interesting chapter of Will Graham’s story has yet to be told.

Once NBC made their decision official and you couldn’t find a buyer elsewhere for a fourth season, were you at peace with the idea that this is it?

Bryan Fuller: I knew the writing was on the wall. I knew that we had gotten ridiculously preferential treatment on this show by the network. The fact that they allowed us to tell the tales we were telling, and in a manner that was much more suited to a cable audience than a broadcast network audience. They were bending over backwards to accommodate us, and I knew they could only bend so far with ratings as bad as we had! (laughs)

Where do things stand now? What are the options?

Bryan Fuller: Martha De Laurentiis is looking into financing for a feature film. The season 4 that we were going to tell is such a restart and reimagining that I still hope in some way that we get to tell a version of that, if not “Silence of the Lambs” itself, as a miniseries. I would love to return this cast to the big screen from whence they came, and Hannibal Lecter to the big screen, from whence he came. It seems perfectly symmetrical.

Last time we talked, you put the odds on a fourth season at 50-50. What would you say the odds are now for any kind of filmed continuation?

Bryan Fuller: Oh, God. I have no idea. I think they’re less than 50/50, and not in our favor. But I’m curious to see how folks respond to the finale, and then also if that satisfies them? If that feels like “We got a conclusion to our story and it’s wrapped up in a bow, and we don’t need anymore,” then the audience will dictate. But if the audience is still there for the show and still wants a continuation of that story, I’ll continue looking for ways to give it to them.

Why does Will, to your mind, pull Hannibal off the cliff. Is it what Bedelia said about how he can’t live with him or without him, so they have to go down together?

Bryan Fuller: Essentially, the conclusion of the season really started very early in the Italian chapter of the story, where Will is admitting if he doesn’t kill Hannibal Lecter, he has the potential to become him. Then he escapes that trajectory with Hannibal being institutionalized, and finding a family, and once being exposed to the heroin needle again, as it were, he’s realizing how much of an addict he actually is, but is aware enough to know, and to start making moves toward his previous goal of ending Hannibal. And he’s willing to do what it takes. Bedelia says, “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.” It’s not necessary for him to survive this, in order to accomplish what he needs to accomplish. There’s something so fated about that final act of Will’s. And also, the awareness of this is perhaps the best solution for both of them.

Hannibal looks so happy when Will is embracing him. Does he know what’s going to happen next, or is he thrown for a loop when they go over the cliff?

Bryan Fuller: I think Hannibal is thrown for a loop when they go over. In that final scene between them, it was Hugh Dancy and I talking about what those last moments that we see of Hannibal and Will in the series on NBC, how they need to connect, and yet Will can’t totally surrender to Hannibal, because he’s still Will Graham and still a human being, but he also knows that it’s going to be very difficult to go back to his family life, seeing his wife murdered over and over again in his mind every time that he looks at her. Any possibility of a relationship that could save him from Hannibal Lecter seems dimmer and dimmer in his mind, that it is acceptable to him that he not survive…

She seems as if she is throwing a dinner party.

Bryan Fuller: (laughs) No, that’s our little nod to the audience that perhaps Hanibal could have survived that cliff dive. She’s sitting at the table with her leg on the table and she’s looking absolutely terrified, and she grabs the fork and hides it under her napkin and waits for whoever’s going to return. This woman still has some fight in her. We don’t know if Hannibal is indeed serving her her leg, or is it Hannibal’s uncle Robertus, or Lady Murasaki, or is it Will Graham?…

Bryan Fuller: That was the original intention. No, somebody has got her, and will she or will she not survive. And what’s so fun is that on the song that Siouxsie Sioux wrote, we hear her say, “I will survive, I will survive,” as we’re pushing in on Bedelia, and that could mean she’s singing from Hannibal’s perspective and it means he has survived and will eat this woman now, or Bedelia’s point of view that it’s like, “You may have cut off this leg, but I’ve got this fork and I’m gonna do some damage before it’s done.”
“The previously filmed season finale of ‘Mr. Robot’ contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia. Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode. Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time.”

DEFIANCE -- "Upon the March We Fittest Die" Episode 313 -- Pictured: (l-r) Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater, Grant Bowler as Joshua Nolan, Trenna Keating as Doc Yewll -- (Photo by: David Lee/Syfy)

Defiance ended its third, and strongest, season on Friday. After wrapping up the arc which dominated the season, the Omec arc, which had also been simmering all season, became the focus of the show. The Omec threat might have been handled too easily, but it brought about what might be the most exciting moment of the series. There is little doubt that Nolan and Doc Yewll will ultimately return to earth, but we can wonder upon the circumstances, and what will occur out in space before this happens.

The scheduled season finale of Mr. Robot was postponed a week due to similarities to killings taking place in Virginia earlier the same day. Considering how much other violence takes place both in the real world and on television, I’m not sure how much this matters. If nothing else, this gave more people a chance to get caught up with the series before its finale. For those who missed it, it is definitely a show worth catching up on.

Two other new shows from this summer which I recommend are Humans and Sense8 (which I reviewed here). As I was watching the uncut British episodes before episodes aired in the US, I did not review episodes of Humans as they aired here. The show typically moved at a fast pace with major revelations every week, slowing down a bit in the finale after resolving the problem of everyone being captured the week before. The finale resolved this, in case the show was not renewed, and then ended with a major revelation in the final moments which will probably drive season 2.

agents_of_shield season 3

A description was released for the third season of Agents of SHIELD which does tell quite a lot about the plans for the upcoming season. A new poster is also above, complete with Coulson’s robot hand. The show returns on Tuesday September 29.

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” returns for an action-packed third season, with Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) leading the charge as S.H.I.E.L.D. searches the world for more powered people in the aftermath of their epic battle with Jiaying and her army of Inhumans. However, Coulson and the team soon find out that they are not the only group looking for these new Inhumans.

Many months after their war with a rogue group of Inhumans, the team is still reeling. Coulson is again trying to put the pieces of his once revered organization back together while also dealing with the loss of his hand. His confidante and second in command, Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), has yet to return from an impromptu vacation with ex-husband Andrew (Blair Underwood); deadly superspy Agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) is recovering from her traumatic torture at the hands of Grant Ward (Brett Dalton); Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is obsessed with discovering the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge); and all are on high-alert for the next move from Ward and Hydra.

Ever since the existence of Super Heroes and aliens became public knowledge after the Battle of New York, the world has been trying to come to grips with this new reality. Coulson assembled a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission: to protect those who cannot protect themselves from threats they cannot conceive.

But bigger threats loom ahead, setting the stakes even higher for the Agents, including the spread of Terrigen, an alien substance that unlocks superhuman abilities in select individuals; the emergence of new Inhumans who cannot yet control nor understand their powers; the rise of a new government organization that will go toe-to-toe with S.H.I.E.L.D.; the unknown properties of the massive alien Kree monolith, which has taken one of their own; and the constant threat of a rebuilt Hydra terrorist organization under S.H.I.E.L.D. traitor Grant Ward, who is making it his personal mission to take down Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D.

New faces, both friend and foe, will join the series, including the no-nonsense, highly-skilled and somewhat mysterious leader (Constance Zimmer) of the ATCU (Advanced Threat Containment Unit), her intimidating partner, Banks (Andrew Howard), Lash (Matthew Willig), a monstrous Inhuman whose loyalties remain ambiguous, and new Inhuman Joey (Juan Pablo Raba), who is struggling to harness his newfound abilities, among other surprising characters.

Coulson, with the help of Daisy and Mack (Henry Simmons), will work to slowly assemble a team that is stronger than ever before, combining the highly skilled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with powered individuals in the hopes of protecting the innocent in a world where the balance of power is ever-shifting, and new dangers are constantly emerging.”

Amazon is working on a television series based upon Galaxy Quest.

Entertainment Weekly has some news (spoilers) about season two of Outlander, including how it might vary from the second book.

George R.R. Martin might have provided a spoiler for season six of Game of Thrones regarding whether Stannis survived. As we didn’t see him actually get killed, I would assume even without looking at spoilers that this remains a strong possibility.

Variety reports that a web series will bridge the gap between The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead

We have already seen Joss Whedon turn to Shakespeare, using many of his frequent stars in Much Ado About Nothing. Now Russel T. Davies is turning to Shakespeare with a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream with the Doctor Who team.

Olive Sacks Book

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who wrote about the brain in a way that showed that science fact can sometimes be stranger than science fiction, died at age 82. From The New York Times:

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant.

Dr. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)

Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing.

Update: Wes Craven has died at 76.  From The Hollywood Reporter:

Wes Craven, the famed maestro of horror known for the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 76…

Craven claimed to have gotten the idea for Elm Street from living next to a cemetery on a street of that name in the suburbs of Cleveland. The five Nightmare on Elm Street films were released from 1984-89 and drew big crowds.

Similarly, Craven’s Scream series was a box-office sensation. In those scare-’em-ups, he spoofed the teen horror genre and frequently referenced other horror movies. 

Craven’s first feature film was The Last House on the Left, which he wrote, directed and edited in 1972. A rape-revenge movie, it appalled some viewers but generated big box office. Next came another film he wrote and helmed, The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

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White House Threatens To Veto Bills Defunding Planned Parenthood; Huckabee Threatens To Send In Troops To Prevent Abortions

Planned Parenthood

There were two threats related to abortion in the news today. While Hillary Clinton looks willing to throw Planned Parenthood under the bus for political gain, the White House is showing why I backed Obama over Clinton in 2008. From The Hill:

The White House on Friday threatened a veto on any bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.

A budget measure that strips funding from the organization “is certainly something that would draw a presidential veto,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“We have routinely opposed the inclusion of ideologically driven riders” in budget bills, Earnest added.

The White House spokesman questioned the authenticity of the recordings and pointed to criticism they have received from media organizations.

“I haven’t seen the videos, but those who have taken a close look at them have raised some significant concerns about their authenticity and whether or not they actually convey the view of those particular officials or even the broader institution,” Earnest said.

On Thursday, Earnest said the “fraudulent way” the videos were released means there is “not a lot of evidence” that Planned Parenthood violated any laws.

Abortion opponents claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue obtained during abortions, which is illegal. Their illegally obtained tapes actually show negotiations over nominal fees for preservation and transportation of the tissue for biomedical research, which is totally different from selling the tissue, and which is legal. Fees for transportation of medical specimens is customary, such as when Medicare or private insurance companies pay me to place cervical cells in preservatives and transport the specimen after doing a pap smear on a patient.

An article at Slate describes the importance of using fetal cells in medical research. This is the real pro-life position.

An investigation of Planned Parenthood ordered by Republican Governor Mike Pence in Indiana cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing after the videos were released.

Mike Huckabee has taken opposition to abortion to a new level, threatening to not only disregard the Supreme Court, but possibly send in troops:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee indicated Thursday that if elected, he wouldn’t rule out employing federal troops or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop abortion from taking place in the United States.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against bans on abortion, Huckabee said past presidents have defied Supreme Court rulings.

Jesse Choper, professor emeritus of public law at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said in a phone interview Friday that Huckabee’s statement was “way off-base,” adding, “it does rival Donald Trump.”

“I think he’d better more carefully examine what he’s saying, because it is totally unprecedented,” Choper said Friday.

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Factcheck.org Debunks Conservative Smear Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

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The conservative attack on Planned Parenthood follows the pattern we have seen so many times in the past. Groups such as Breitbart put out edited tapes or videos to attack organizations which they disagree with based upon false claims. Now that fact checkers have had time to evaluate the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood, it is becoming clear that this is just one more example, and hardly comes as a surprise considering that most of the conservative reports on the issue which I’ve read quickly degenerate into a tirade against reproductive rights and legitimate scientific research.

Factcheck.org has evaluated the claims, and points out that, “it remains legal to donate tissue from a legally aborted fetus, and for that tissue to be used for research purposes.” They point ethical guidelines on the issue from the American Medical Association: “Fetal tissue is not provided in exchange for financial remuneration above that which is necessary to cover reasonable expenses.”

Reviewing the tapes, Factcheck.org found numerous examples which demonstrate that Planned Parenthood was operating within the law and established ethical guidelines:

Nucatola’s comment, though, isn’t evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates are selling “body parts” or fetal tissue for profit. The full video shows that after Nucatola mentions the $30 to $100, she describes how those amounts would be reimbursement for expenses related to handling and transportation of the tissues. Nucatola talks about “space issues” and whether shipping would be involved…

Nucatola does make one statement in the unedited video that suggests to critics that some clinics would be comfortable with a payment that was slightly more than their expenses for providing the tissue. “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a nonprofit, they just don’t want to — they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that,” Nucatola says.

But immediately after this statement, Nucatola goes on to say: “Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.” Planned Parenthood told us that she may have been referring to more general operations of the clinics.

Nucatola repeatedly talks about affiliates only wanting to provide a service to their patients, who elect to donate the tissue for medical research, and not having that service impact their bottom lines. She says that it’s “not a new revenue stream the affiliates are looking at” and that “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.” She says some affiliates might donate the tissue for free.

Nucatola also discusses Planned Parenthood clinics’ interactions with a tissue procurement company called StemExpress. The company’s website says that partnering with StemExpress can be “financially profitable” for a clinic — a point that some conservativewebsites have singled out. But this also does not constitute evidence that Planned Parenthood is profiting in such a way…

Richards, the Planned Parenthood president, said in a video response to the controversy: “The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

On July 21, the Center for Medical Progress released a second, similar video, again featuring a discussion with a Planned Parenthood official in a restaurant. The numbers mentioned in the edited video are similar to what Nucatola said. The official, Mary Gatter, quotes a rate of $75 per specimen, and says she was thinking of saying $50. The discussion only reaches $100 because the “buyers” in the video mention higher prices. At one point, Gatter says that “we’re not in this for the money,” and later she reiterates that “money is not the important thing.”

Though few studies of costs associated with fetal tissue acquisition are available, existing evidence does suggest the prices named in the video are in line with general practices. The National Institutes of Health conducts research with fetal tissue, and in the late 1990s, the Government Accountability Office (then known as the General Accounting Office) looked into the acquisition of such tissue, finding that the direct cost to researchers was “low.” GAO said payments primarily went to “central tissue suppliers,” as opposed to health clinics. In most cases, GAO found that clinics did not charge researchers, but when they did, the cost ranged from $2 to $75. The report did not address how much clinics might have received from central tissue suppliers, which is more analogous to the situation presented in the video.

PoltiFact has also reviewed the topic.

The New York Times has run an editorial on the subject. After summarizing the issue, the editorial concludes:

Anti-abortion groups have long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no federal money is used to provide abortions. But that hasn’t stopped their efforts to shut down the clinics, which provide services like contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

The Center for Medical Progress — which managed to get tax-exempt status in 2013 as a biomedicine charity, according to a report by The Huffington Post — appears to have done little beyond producing the undercover video. According to its registration form with the California attorney general, it has three officers: Mr. Daleiden; Albin Rhomberg, who has participated in anti-abortion protests; and Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

In a statement last week, Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that “our donation programs — like any other high-quality health care providers — follow all laws and ethical guidelines” and that “Planned Parenthood stands behind our work to help women and families donate tissue for medical research when they wish to.”

Researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions like H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson’s. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood is certainly not the only collector of fetal tissue — clinics associated with universities also supply tissue for research.

The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.

Considering the potential health benefits, research on fetal tissue is the true “pro-life” position.

Update: The Department of Justice plans to investigate this matter.

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Another Call For A Science Debate

It is becoming a regular feature of elections that there is a call for a science debate. Despite lack of interest by politicians, there is another call for a science debate this election:

Science is changing everything, with major economic, environmental, health, legal, and moral implications. Sign the call for the candidates to debate:

“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of science and technology policy, health and medicine, and the environment.”

We all know that conservatives frequently use pseudo-science to deny climate change and evolution. Conservative pseudo-science was seen when they ignored the biology to create unnecessary hysteria over Ebola. The repeated attempts to prohibit abortions after twenty-weeks are also based upon pseudo-science regarding embryology.

Of course Republican ignorance is not limited to science. They also ignore the facts regarding history and economics. For example, to mark Rick Perry entering the race, Think Progress posted a list of 9 Completely Bonkers Things The Newest GOP Presidential Candidate Believes About The Constitution. I’m sure comparable lists could be made for each Republican candidate. How about a look at their views on separation of church and state?

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The Conservative Con Game

If you ever subscribed to any conservative magazines you most likely wound up on their mailing lists which try to sell all sorts of snake oil to gullible conservatives. They often tie it into conservative philosophy/paranoia, such as selling gold based upon warnings about the imminent economic collapse. Their predictions are essentially unchanged from the 1960’s when I first became aware of them, and probably began far earlier. Rick Perlstein has described how they use their mailing lists to con their supporters.

This is hardly surprising considering how gullible one must be to be a conservative these days as they ignore science, economics, and any other facts which contradict their views. They deny evolution, climate change, and basic science whenever convenient. They promote conspiracy theories without evidence, such as their bogus claims about Benghazi, ACORN, and the IRS. Believe it or not, there are lots of conservatives who believe all their claims, supplying cover when wealthy right wingers promote government policies designed to enrich themselves, while hurting everyone else, based upon Voodoo economic theories which don’t hold up in the real world.

Sometimes a conservative starts to figure out that they are being conned, but they generally miss the big picture. Right Wing News looked at fund raising by conservative groups:

Reports about sleazy activities by conservative groups have not exactly been in short supply over the last couple of years. Damaging stories have popped up on the Daily Beast, Mother Jones, Washington Post, the Politico and at the Daily Caller among other outlets. Additionally, for those of us who have a lot of friends in the Tea Party and among grassroots conservatives, stories of abuse have become rampant.

In the past many conservatives ignored such stories, figuring they were just liberal hit pieces. Right Wing News demonstrated that (as liberals had long realized) many conservative groups were ripping off donors to pocket the money rather than use it for actual candidates. The article concludes:

How many conservative candidates lost in 2014 because of a lack of funds? How many of them came up short in primaries, lost winnable seats or desperately tried to fight off better-funded challengers? How much of a difference would another 50 million dollars have made last year?  That’s a very relevant question because the 10 PACs at the bottom of this list spent $54,318,498 and only paid out $3,621,896 to help get Republicans elected. If that same $54,318,498 had gone to the Club for Growth Action PAC and it had been as efficient with it as it was with the money it had, $47,800,278 would have gone to Republican candidates instead of the meager $3,621,896 that those candidates received from those 10 PACs during this cycle. The conservative movement has a right to expect more than this from the PACs that are representing it.

The post has received considerable attention with conservatives being willing to accept data from a conservative blog which they might have ignored from other sources. For example, Jonah Goldberg covered this at National Review under the title The Right Wing Scam Machine.

Now if they would only realize that the entire conservative movement is a giant scam which pushes false information to promote their goals. Their followers are being told lies far beyond such dishonest fundraising. Unfortunately those who see the tip of the iceberg are totally missing the real problem.

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Conservatives Celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day”

Ken Ham believes that “Darwin Was Wrong Day” has been a big hit. It is not clear that it was a hit beyond thinking it is good that he is being mocked considerably on Twitter today. Declaring a day to claim a falsehood hardly makes it true, even if a number of right wing science-deniers were to back the day.

I imagine that next we will start seeing a whole new set of holidays from the anti-science/anti-fact right. These might include “Climate Change Is A Hoax Day,” “Cigarettes Do Not Cause Cancer Day,” “Ebola Can Become Airborne Day,” “Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves Day,” “Saddam Had WMD And Helped Osama bin Laden Day,” “Vaccines Cause Autism Day,” “Ban Abortion Because A Twenty-Week Fetus Can Feel Pain Day,” and “The Earth Is Flat Day.” In Texas, Rick Perry will proclaim “Texans Don’t Want Insurance Day.”

There is one group which might help Ken Ham celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day.” Denial of evolution is popular among the current group of potential Republican nominees, with Scott Walker being the latest Republican to look foolish on evolution. Salon looked at the views of all the candidates after summarizing the overall anti-scientific mood of the Republican candidates:

From climate change to vaccines to the theory of evolution, much of the Republican Party has made clear that it’s not exactly enamored of modern science. This anti-intellectualism can take a few forms: Republicans may flatly reject empirical evidence. They may accept parts or all of the evidence, but with major caveats — the climate is warming, but humans aren’t causing it; vaccines work, but parents should have the right to opt their children out of them; evolution occurred, but it should be taught alongside creationism in public schools. Or, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, they take the “I’m not a scientist” tack, and simply decline to state their views.

Asked during a trade mission to London today whether he accepts evolution, Walker replied, “I’m going to punt on that one… That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser quipped that following Chris Christie’s disastrous trip across the pond, during which the New Jersey governor said that “parents need to have some measure of choice” in whether to vaccinate their children, Walker seemed to have learned that the best approach is to stay mum on such topics.

But Walker’s refusal to indicate whether he accepts a fundamental tenet of biology underscores the GOP’s tortured relationship with science, not least on evolution. With Walker and other GOP hopefuls gearing up to launch their 2016 campaigns, Salon now provides you with a comprehensive guide to where the Republican candidates stand on the origin of life.

Check out the full article for the break-down by candidate. While there is a range in how much each candidate is on the record denying science, not a single one of the potential Republican candidates is willing to say they accept the science regarding in evolution without qualifications.

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Measles Outbreak Shows How Republicans Have A Serious Problem With Science And Facts

Statements from many prominent Republicans, including Chris Christie and Rand Paul, on the measles outbreak have served to remind people that Republicans really are the Party of Stupid. This follows recent problems with Republicans ignoring the science to promote hysteria in response to Ebola.  As The New York Times wrote:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers — including Mr. Christie — who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

On climate change, the party has struggled with how to position itself, with some Republicans inviting mockery for questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels.

There are two types of misinformation being spread by conservatives regarding vaccines. The most extreme is to deny the basic science, claiming that vaccines do not work or are harmful. Some limit their arguments to denying the public health dangers resulting when some people refuse to vaccinate their children, often on libertarian grounds. While herd immunity has generally protected Americans from the effects of some refusing vaccines, the current measles outbreak shows what can happen. This also highlights a major problem with libertarianism. Sometimes, as even Fox’s Megyn Kelly has argued, “some things do require some involvement of Big Brother.”

It is also hard for Chris Christie to hide behind any libertarian justification for allowing parents to refuse to vaccinate their children after he involuntarily quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox despite the lack of either legal or medical justification.

It does make it much worse for the Republicans when they show similar problems with science and facts on other issues, not limited to evolution, climate change, vaccines, and Ebola. As I discussed yesterday, Republicans are also basing their attempts to restrict abortion rights on pseudo-science, such as claiming that a fetus can feel pain before it has developed a cerebral cortex, and framing the debate around unscientific claims that there is a definite point when life begins.

While economics is not as exact a science, there is ample data which disputes Republican Voodoo Economics. Tax cuts on the wealthy do not pay for themselves, do not stimulate the economy, and do not lead to wealth trickling down. The multiplier effect of government spending on economic development, along with the benefits of giving tax breaks to the poor and middle class, as opposed to the wealthy, often provide far greater benefit. These are among the reasons that the economy does so much better under Democrats than Republicans.

We are still seeing the disastrous effects of Republicans ignoring the facts in Iraq to go to war.

Facts matter, and Republican denial of the facts do not change this. What does happen is that we all suffer when Republicans decide public policy while denying science and facts.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Senate Republicans Agree Climate Change Is Real But Continue To Deny Cause

Climate-vote

With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats are largely limited to symbolic votes. Democrats wanted to attach an amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill which would get Republicans on record with regards to climate change. There was little difficulty in passing an amendment agreeing that climate change is real, and not a hoax. Only one Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, voted no. The catch is that, while they agreed that the climate is changing (a fact which some conservatives do deny), they do not accept the view of 97 percent of climate scientists that human action is the cause.

Senator Brian Schatz introduced a stronger amendment: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real; and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Under the rules of the Senate, this amendment failed with a 50-49 majority. Most Republicans voted against it, but there were a handful of exceptions–full list here.

I’m not sure what all this proved, but next could we have a vote to determine which Republicans don’t believe in evolution, or that the earth is not flat?

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Republican Women Revolting Against GOP Rape Ban But For Wrong Reasons

National Journal reports that the some Republicans oppose their party’s planned legislation to attempt to restrict abortion rights, or as Think Progress puts it,Republicans Introduce An Anti-Abortion Bill So Extreme That GOP Women In Congress Are Revolting.

Republican lawmakers are raising concerns that the party will alienate young voters and women by voting for an antiabortion bill coming to the House floor next week, on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

In a closed-door open-mic session of House Republicans, Rep. Renee Ellmers spoke out against bringing up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, telling the conference that she believes the bill will cost the party support among millennials, according to several sources in the room.

“I have urged leadership to reconsider bringing it up next week.… We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we’re moving forward,” Ellmers said in an interview. “The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

I have previously discussed how the twenty-week ban, in addition to being an unacceptable act of government intrusion in the rights of women to control their own body, is based upon conservative pseudo-science. They base it on false claims that the fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks despite this being scientifically impossible prior to the development of the cerebral cortex. This objection from some Republicans, based upon political expediency as opposed to principle, also demonstrates the hypocrisy of Republicans. If something really was morally wrong, as Republicans claim abortion is at twenty weeks, then it would not be justifiable to oppose the ban because of fear of losing votes.

If conservatives really had a case that abortion is morally wrong, then why should such an act be justifiable based upon who the father is? It would not be the fault of the fetus that the mother was raped. The abortion exclusion also shows just some of the difficulties in enforcing any laws against abortion rights. The proposed legislation would only apply if a woman reports the rape to the police, but this imposes unfair obstacles considering how women who report rape are often treated. Are we getting back to the Todd Akin idea of “legitimate rape” with such requirements? On the other hand, if reporting a rape to the police is the requirement for a legal abortion, this would potentially give motivation for women to falsely claim rape, along with causing increased skepticism among some people when women do report rape, further worsening problems for women who are raped.

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