Barack Obama’s Eulogy For Ted Kennedy

Video of Barack Obama’s eulogy for Ted Kennedy above. Transcript is below the fold.


Four Bad Examples of Health Care Systems

What do Russia, China, Turkmenistan, and the United States have in common? Their health care systems are the four listed by Foreign Policy as systems policy makers interested in reform “should avoid at all costs.” From their description of the US system:

The United States has the rare distinction of being both one of the world’s richest countries and having one of its least-functional health care systems.

Americans spend around one in every six dollars on healthcare. But, in aggregate, they’re not getting much bang for their buck. People in the United States are as likely to die from diseases like lung cancer as citizens in all OECD countries – which, on average, spend less than half as much per capita. Some 47 million lack any health insurance coverage. An estimated 600,000 people file for bankruptcy every year because they cannot pay their medical expenses. Indeed, the United States is the only rich country without universal coverage.

Pat Buchanan’s Strategy For The GOP

Pat Buchanan, who has made a career out of pandering to racist and anti-Semitic beliefs, has some advice for the Republican Party–engage in more race-baiting:

In 2008, Hispanics, according to the latest figures, were 7.4 percent of the total vote. White folks were 74 percent, 10 times as large. Adding just 1 percent to the white vote is thus the same as adding 10 percent to the candidate’s Hispanic vote.

If John McCain, instead of getting 55 percent of the white vote, got the 58 percent George W. Bush got in 2004, that would have had the same impact as lifting his share of the Hispanic vote from 32 percent to 62 percent.

But even Ronald Reagan never got over 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Yet, he and Richard Nixon both got around 65 percent of the white vote.

When Republican identification is down to 20 percent, but 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservatives, do Republicans need a GPS to tell them which way to go?

Why did McCain fail to win the white conservative Democrats Hillary Clinton swept in the primaries? He never addressed or cared about their issues.

These are the folks whose jobs have been outsourced to China and Asia, who pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors. These are the folks who want the borders secured and the illegals sent back.

Had McCain been willing to drape Jeremiah Wright around the neck of Barack Obama, as Lee Atwater draped Willie Horton around the neck of Michael Dukakis, the mainstream media might have howled.

And McCain might be president.

(Hat top to Matthew Yglesias who read Human Events today so that the rest of us don’t have to.)

The Southern strategy worked for years, but it has now turned the Republicans into a regional party unable to win national elections. Besides desiring to pander to the types of views which also limit Republican support to primarily conservative white males, Buchanan shows another tendency of the far right. Beyond racism, distortions of the facts is typical of the far right, and Buchanan demonstrates this with multiple untrue claims about Sonia Sotomayor.

John Kerry Responds To Sarah Palin

John Kerry has responded to Sarah Palin’s op-ed on cap-and-trade at Huffington Post. Here is just a portion:

Around the world, the effects are already being felt. The Himalayan glaciers, source for almost all the major rivers of India and China, are shrinking, putting the future water resources of billions of people in doubt. Shifting weather patterns may turn the American “breadbasket” into a dustbowl. And stronger storms and rising sea levels can devastate coastal communities across our country and around the world.

All of these effects (and many, many more) will have a devastating effect on our economy and threaten our national security. For example, just imagine the situation in India and Pakistan if the rivers on which the region depends for agriculture dry up. Imagine how much worse the problems of poverty, terrorism, and instability would become in that situation.

Reading Gov Palin’s op-ed too often it sounds like the only threats America faces are solely economic. But that’s not what our intelligence experts and military leaders tell us. General Anthony Zinni, a rock-jawed military man and former commander of our forces in the Middle East who is tough to peg as any sort of climate alarmist warned that without action — and I quote — “we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.”

We can’t afford to ignore this reality — in an op-ed column or in our public debate over an entire piece on legislation designed to meet these challenges. An op-ed on Guantanamo policy that fails to acknowledge the existence of terrorists would not be taken seriously. Neither should an op-ed on energy reform that fails to mention the irrefutable reality of climate change.

Celebrating A 20th Anniversary


China has found a strangely appropriate way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is two days away–by clamping down on the internet.

Two days before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, China’s censors moved today to limit the access of the country’s increasingly tech-savvy population to vast swathes of the internet.

The first victims were the rising population of tweeters, who use the micro-blogging service Twitter as a platform for humour — often scatological — and political comment.

Then the popular photo-posting service Flickr disappeared, as did the Hotmail e-mail service and Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing. The blocks did not stop there, however: MSN Spaces also disappeared

The timing is scarcely a coincidence. Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the entry of the People’s Liberation Army into Beijing on June 4 1989 to crush seven weeks of student-led demonstrations centred in Tiananmen Square.

For those too young to recall the events, while intellectually we probably realized it wouldn’t last, emotionally we had hope after weeks of demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that China  was actually becoming more tolerant with regards to dissent and demands for democracy. Then the tanks came in.

The Real Kirk and Spock Would Have Fixed The Time Line


John Podhoretz shares my discomfort with the manner in which J.J. Abrams wiped out all previous Star Trek canon in making the new Star Trek movie. (Major spoilers here). He compares the movie to City on the Edge  of Forever, one of several Star Trek episodes involving changes to the time line discussed in my review of the movie:

Without the plot discipline that requires a time-travel scenario to leave the past as it was, the whole business just becomes a Rube Goldberg machine, with characters simply jumping backward whenever they want to make the present-day reality more appealing to them. That is suitable for comedies involving time travel, like the two Bill and Ted movies and Back to the Future, but not for science fiction. For science fiction to work, and work memorably, it has to offer a believable reason for every alteration in the nature of reality.

The writer-producer-director J. J. Abrams seems intent on ignoring the need for rules–any rules. On his beautifully made and insanely exasperating science-fiction TV show Lost, people travel forwards and backwards in time whenever it suits the show’s fancy, can occupy the same time and space with their younger selves so that they literally exist in two places at once, and in general, make a hash of any coherent plotline.

Abrams has decided to imitate himself on the big screen. He has now produced and directed a new Star Trek movie, the 11th big-screen feature in the series and a deliberate attempt to relaunch it with a new cast of younger actors playing the Star Trek crew. All the trappings are good. The movie is dynamic and propulsive, and the new cast is terrific. It will surely be a hit.

But it’s a mess, and a disgraceful mess at that. That’s because Abrams and his screenwriters, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, simply discard all fealty to the iron rules of time travel that made “City on the Edge of Forever”–the episode that was one of the key reasons the show so captured the imaginations of its viewers and became the phenomenon it did–such a haunting and memorable hour of television.

A gigantic alien spaceship from the future decides to rewrite history to its liking. That changes the past, but nobody seems all that interested in going back and fixing things, which is what would have happened on the show. Instead, we are asked to accept that a planet well known in Star Trek lore can be destroyed at a cost of six billion lives, and the event is simply accepted. Instead, Abrams and company also devise a deus ex machina in the form of one of the show’s most beloved characters. He won’t do anything to fix things, either, except try to turn young Kirk and young Spock into friends.

I still had a favorable view of the movie and felt that in many ways it remained true to Star Trek as I pointed out in my earlier review. I could easily overlook some minor changes from the past to reboot the series for a new era, and can understand why Abrams wanted to avoid having to follow every element of Star Trek canon, but there was no need for Abrams to change Star Trek as radically as he did. There were people doing Star Trek before Abrams and there will hopefully be people doing it after him.  Abrams wanted to leave himself free to kill off any characters or change the history of the Enterprise but to a certain degree living within the confines of the known Star Trek universe is part of writing Star Trek. Abrams is always free to exercise his creativity in writing other shows.

If Abrams had settled for only minor changes involving the Enterprise crew of the Kirk era, this would still leave people free to write of future generations while sticking to the main history presented in the previous shows. After all, slight changes in Kirk’s Enterprise would not have to have any bearing on a future show done along the lines of  Star Trek: The Next Generation. By making changes as radical as destroying a major planet, any future shows will be forced to choose between the original and the Abrams time line.

While Abrams simplified things for himself, he actually made Star Trek more complicated when looking at all the television shows and movies. Will we wind up with a situation as confusing as the multiple universes of the D.C. comics? Will discussions of Star Trek involving events which differ depending upon the time line make Star Trek appear as convoluted as Lost?

Abrams thought he was being true to Star Trek by using a plot device which was often used on the television shows. Matthew Yglasias accepted this writing, “Handling the desire to ditch elements of the established history through the mechanism of a goofy time travel plot is very much in the spirit of a franchise that’s full of goofy time travel plots.” This goofy time travel plot differed from the typical goofy Star Trek time travel plot by remaining in the altered time line.   As Podhoretz notes, if they were true to the show they would have fixed the time line and saved everyone who died.

As I pointed out in the comments to my earlier review, there are a couple of solutions (which I expect will show up somewhere in fan fiction). They could have the Enterprise and old Spock go into the future to prevent these events. Perhaps they could prevent Romulus from being destroyed, or otherwise intervene to prevent Nero from going back in time.

A second possibility, if they want to avoid further time travel, would be to launch an undercover operation on Romulus at the time of the movie and kill Nero’s ancestors.

Yet another possibility would be for Spock to go take a shower, and when he comes out be on Vulcan talking about the illogical dream he just had.

Comparisons to how time travel is also being used in Lost are inevitable. The comparisons are not as significant as above as Abrams isn’t actually involved with the current plotting of Lost, but it is still hard to ignore the comparison as we head into the season finale. On Lost, Jack is trying to prevent the event which caused Oceanic Flight 815 to crash on the island. We will find out what happens on Wednesday, but I have a feeling that, after being led to believe that what happened cannot be changed, Jack just might be successful.

We have been told that the finale of Lost will be a real game changer. Imagine if the episode ends with Oceanic Flight 815 arriving safely in Los Angeles and never crashing on the island. The main characters wouldn’t even know each other despite all the ways in which their lives turned out to be interconnected. This would really leave fans guessing as to where the show is going in the final season. They can easily get themselves out of  such a change next season  by having Ben or someone else change the time line yet again. I suspect the writers of Lost are capable of throwing something like this at us for the summer, or perhaps something even more bizarre.

It is one thing for Lost to play around with time lines which change back and forth, but fans expect more internal consistency to Star Trek.  On Star Trek the goal has always been to repair the time line and make sure things are as they were  intended to be.

Ideology and Pragmatism

In 2005 Jonathan Chait wrote at article about ideology versus pragmatism at The New Republic,  comparing left versus right:

We’re accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people’s lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people’s lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.

The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy–more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition–than conservatism…

Bush’s administration gives primacy to political advisers over policy wonks in large part because they have no need to debate their ends, only the means of achieving them … The next liberal administration, whenever it happens, will not be nearly so certain. Aside from rolling back conservative excesses, its economic agenda will take its cue from external events, and the decisions it arrives at could, in time, be cast aside through experimentation. Ultimately, those policies, whether they move left or right, will be measured against their effect on people’s lives, not the degree to which they bring the government closer to some long-ago agreed-upon vision. In time, those policies will be altered yet again to suit a changing world. This is known as progress.

Ross Douthat responds by using the massive spending in the stimulus bill as an example of the “next liberal administration” following liberal economic ideology. He concludes:

This is not to say that there aren’t degrees of ideology and degrees of pragmatism, or that some thinkers and some politicians aren’t more empirical than others. And it’s certainly possible to imagine – and hope for, from this administration – a liberalism that’s more pragmatic and evidence-based than was George W. Bush’s conservatism. But the debates that have dominated the first two weeks of the Obama Presidency ought to be an object lesson in why ideological preconceptions always matter, no matter how empirically-minded you aspire to be.

Ross is partially correct, but also makes a mistake in using the response to the current economic crisis to compare the reliance on ideology of the Bush administration to the Democratic stimulus package. Jonathan Chait responds:

Is he saying that Democrats would deem the stimulus a success even if they discover that it fails to stimulate economic growth, merely because it has enlarged the size of government and that is a liberal end in and of itself? Does he further believe that the Obama economic team would have implemented something like a $900 billion stimulus plan even if the economy was humming along rather than facing its worst crisis since the Depression?

Brian Beutlers adds:

Imagine an alternate reality in which the economy is in fine shape and Barack Obama’s just been elected president. Perhaps he’d go hog wild and propose a trillion dollars in unfunded spending just to sneak a bunch of liberal wish list items on to the government debt ledger. But I don’t really think so. And I don’t think Ross does either. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think it’s much more likely that under kinder circumstances Obama would carry forward with the plan he campaigned on–to let the Bush tax cuts expire, tackle the energy, climate and health crises and, maybe, give the middle class a tax cut. That, of course, was before the economy started shedding 600,000 jobs a month, but it made some sense at the time. Just as Jon’s analysis suggested it would.

Now imagine Barack Obama is a Republican. He’s just been elected and the economy is in the toilet. What’s his answer? Tax cuts for the rich! What if the economy’s in decent shape? Tax cuts for the rich! What if we’d just been invaded by China, Canada, and Mexico, and alien space craft were hovering over Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.? Tax cuts for the rich!

This contrast carries across the board. If burning fossil fuels was harmless, for instance, would Democrats stand behind a politically fraught plan to price carbon just for the fun of it? If the private insurance industry had somehow contained costs and covered 98 percent of the people in the country, would Democrats be demanding major, complicated reforms to the health care system? Obviously not.

As I said, Ross is partially correct, especially in concluding that “ideological preconceptions always matter.” Ideology matters, but liberals realize that facts must be considered when adopting policies while conservatives ignore facts which do not fit into their ideology.

Response to the economic crisis on the part of both the left and right is primarily influenced by ideology. It might be true that large government spending on the infrastructure will create more jobs and strengthen the economy. It is also possible that, as we got into this mess at least partially by overspending and not saving as a society, the best response might actually be decreasing government spending and tax cuts (of course not limited to the rich). There is really no evidence to argue this on pragmatic grounds and I do not believe writers on either the left or right who are convinced that their answer is the right one. We can’t even come to an agreement as to whether the New Deal worked.  Lacking facts it does make sense to consider ideology, as long as one is willing to change the policy if facts prove them wrong.

While Ross is correct in pointing out that ideology affects many decisions, he is incorrect in using this to create an equivalency between the left and right. Obama is responding to a bad situation based upon what his economic advisers, right or wrong, have advised is the best pragmatic course. If he took office during different economic conditions, the influence of his Chicago school economic advisers would likely be more significant and we would probably see more fiscally conservative policies. Obama might be right or wrong, but he is attempting to respond to the economic crisis pragmatically. This is not changed by the fact that many liberals are supporting his policies based upon ideology. Regardless of who is ultimately right, the Republicans are certainly coming out of this looking like they are more interested in playing politics (and are perhaps even crazy as Steve Benen writes).

One major difference between liberals and conservatives is that many (although certainly not all) liberals would abandon the idea of responding to the economic crisis with massive spending if there were to be evidence that this did not work. As Jon wrote in  his 2005 article, “Contemporary economic liberalism is less of an ideology than the absence of one–a rejection both of dogmatic fealty and hostility to the free market.”

Liberals (with some exceptions) generally support the free market and realize that most things are better done by the free market than by government. Liberals, not being blinded by ideology, also realize that there are certain things which the free market does not handle well. Liberals realize that such decisions must be made based upon objective facts, not based upon ideology. Chait used Bill Clinton as an example:

Bill Clinton came to office planning to spur the economy with a Keynesian stimulus, but abandoned those plans after fierce debate among his staff economists. Instead he embraced the novel goal of sparking recovery by slashing the deficit in the hopes that lower interest rates would enable sustainable growth. As that policy seemed to work, moderate liberals continued to embrace the credo of fiscal restraint. But, after the economy slid toward a recession in 2001, liberal economists abandoned short-term restraint in favor of temporary tax cuts to encourage spending.

He also noted how the Republicans have both moved further to the right, and become more ideological, in recent years. He  looked back at Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford:

Eisenhower used the federal government, rather than states and localities, to build the Federal Highway System, and he made no effort to reduce a top tax rate that stood at an absurdly high 91 percent. Nixon declared, “We are all Keynesians now.” He raised Social Security benefits and proposed an ambitious national health care plan. Conservatives have since renounced Nixon’s economic record, and no wonder. Today it would place him on the left edge of the Democratic Party.

It’s not a coincidence that the two most economically liberal Republican presidents–Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford–also displayed the most serious interest in empiricism. Both required their assistants to produce detailed “Brandeis briefs” outlining the essential arguments on both sides of any policy debate. Ford invited Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith into the Oval Office for a free-ranging debate on economic policy.

Since the mid-’70s, the GOP has grown steadily more conservative, and therefore less pragmatic.

Taking advice from both Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith is essentially what Barack Obama is doing. His economic advisers include both Chicago school economists who have been influenced by Milton Friedman and more liberal economics who would fall closer to Galbraith.

While conservatives might attack it as “flip-flopping,” liberals realize that when the facts show that a policy has not worked, or when conditions change, it is necessary to change the policy. In contrast we have repeatedly seen Republicans stick to the same principles based upon ideology regardless of how much evidence there is that their policies have failed. Conservatives have even build extensive defenses against objective evidence, with the most extreme classifying any information source which does not share their ideology as being liberally biased.

Ideological preconceptions do matter. Often there is more than one pragmatic course of action and basing policies based upon one’s principles may be justified. Other times ideology must be set aside to make the best decision. The difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals can look beyond their ideological preconceptions and consider the facts to develop pragmatic policies. Conservatives in recent years have demonstrated an inability to do this.

Forbes Prompts Discussion Of The Meaning Of Liberalism

The recent article by Forbes on The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media, which I previously discussed here, has led to further discussion about the meaning of liberalism.  Defining political labels is complicated by the changing nature of these labels, as I noted in yesterday’s post on how Neither Goldwater nor Reagan Would Recognize The Modern GOP. Both the meaning of liberal and conservative have changed over time.

A problem with political labels is that they often lump together people with very different view points while dividing people who agree on many issues. While some people fit in well with the party orthodoxy of either the Democrats or Republicans and therefore fit one possible definition of liberal or conservative, others of us do not.

Andrew Sullivan presents an example of someone who labels do not work well for. He calls himself a conservative, but his views differ so much from current Republican views that many on the right, along with Forbes, consider him a liberal. Sullivan presents examples where he does not fit the definition given for the article which ranks him as one of the most influential liberals, but this does not entirely settle the question as Forbes only said that “a ‘liberal’ subscribes to some or all of” a number of positions.

Sullivan has wisely decided that it is not of much concern whether others label him a liberal or conservative. He points out that some conservatives do not consider him to be conservative due to their homophobia and because “conservatism has become a religious movement.” He commented on the mind set of conservatives which has lead to them writing him out of their movement:

For the record: self-confident political groupings seek converts – look at Obama. Failed and failing political groupings seek to punish and list heretics. I’m resigned to being a heretic given the state of the current conservative movement. And as an independent writer, it mercifully can’t hurt me much. I just don’t think conservatism will revive until it stops thinking that way.

In a follow up post Sullivan looked at other views on this subject and acknowledged that his views do overlap with the views of many who are now labeled as liberal. He is still sticking with the conservative label, and defending his view of the meaning of conservatism, but not  out of opposition to liberals he shares views with. He concluded, ” I am more than happy to share the term liberalism with others. I am not going to have the word conservative coopted solely by these religious radicals.”

Although I noted that many of the liberals listed by Forbes, including by not limited to Sullivan, would not be considered liberals by many people, I was not really surprised by the composition of the list. Many on the extreme right consider everyone who does not share their extreme views to be liberals. This  list also helps them defend their fantasy that they are under attack by a mythical liberal media by simply defining virtually everyone, even centrists and moderate conservatives, as liberals. Sam Wang takes this a step further and finds potential benefits in conservatives defining non-liberals in the media as liberals:

Perhaps the practical criterion was “liberals plus people who annoy us Republican loyalists.” In this light the list makes more sense. Too bad they didn’t pause to consider that many of these people annoy quite a broad political demographic.

There’s a second advantage to defining liberalism in a way that includes nonideological or middle-of-the-road pundits. It never hurts to work the referee, i.e. call someone liberal as a way of getting him/her to lean further rightward. In this light, the inclusion of the NYT and WaPo op-ed directors (Shipley and Hiatt) as well as the WSJ news director (Seib) makes perfect sense. Even assuming these three people are actual liberals, in practice they don’t carry out editorial policies that lean left. For example, they publish Brooks, Kristol, Krauthammer, and Dowd.

Forbes can also get away with this because there are no firm definitions to use to judge them. Liberalism has many possible definitions. When I use liberal in the name of this blog, I am referring to liberalism in both its broad historical sense and with consideration of the variations in meaning internationally, as opposed to indicating support for any narrow partisan views. Some have suggested that I use the term classical liberalism instead, but I have preferred to leave this open, not wanting to be concerned about whether any specific views I hold fit into this label. Recent events have also forced me to tolerate more government activity in the economy than I would have previously supported.  I have given  homage to the birth of classical liberalism, and its stress on both personal and economic liberty, during the enlightenment in the subheading of the blog title.

My views are sometimes described as socially liberal and economically conservative, but in recent years I have used this terminology less as the Republicans have, despite their rhetoric, become increasing hostile to capitalism while an increasing number of liberals have adopted views which previously would have been considered economic conservatism. While Republicans might call themselves capitalists, I see them more as the party of Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls, Dick Cheney’s energy task force, the K Street Project, and the general philosophy of distorting free market principles to justify allowing the fox to guard the hen house.

Timothy Ash reviewed the various ways in which liberal is used in The New York Times. He began by noting that “Like many of Mr. Obama’s speeches, the Inaugural Address presented, in substance, a blend of classical constitutional and modern egalitarian liberalism. The thing, but never the word.” From there he discussed how the word liberal has fallen into disfavor due to attacks from the right.  (He also noted that Hillary Clinton has avoided the word liberal, but in her case I would classify her more as a socially conservative populist and do not consider her to be a liberal.) Ash notes how the word liberalism is used around the world:

Interestingly, what is furiously attacked as “liberalism” in France, and in much of Central and Eastern Europe, is precisely what is most beloved of the libertarian or “fiscal conservative” strand of the American right. When French leftists and Polish populists denounce “liberalism,” they mean Anglo-Saxon-style, unregulated free-market capitalism. (Occasionally the prefix neo- or ultra- is added to make this clear.)

One Chinese intellectual told us that in his country, “Liberalism means everything the government doesn’t like.” The term is used in China as a political instrument to attack, in particular, advocates of further market-oriented economic reform. Standards of what counts as socially or culturally liberal also vary widely. An Indian speaker wryly observed that in India a “liberal” father is one who allows his children to choose whom they want to marry.

Ash tried to provide a minimal definition of liberalism, while still noting the variations in its use around the world, and noting that many Americans hold liberal views even if they avoid the term:

A plausible minimum list of ingredients for 21st century liberalism would include liberty under law, limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress. The mix of ingredients differs from place to place. Whether some distant cousin really belongs to the extended family of liberalisms is a matter of healthy dispute. But somewhere in this contested, evolving combination there is a thing of enduring value.

This has been an American argument, some would say the American argument, for more than 200 years. In fact, the United States is still full of liberals, both progressive or left liberals and, I would insist, conservative or right liberals. Most of them just don’t use the word. Liberalism is the American love that dare not speak its name.

For obvious reasons, we are now witnessing worldwide criticism of a version of pure free-market liberalism, a k a neo-liberalism, charged with having led us into our current economic mess. Yet, our Chinese and European colleagues agreed that markets remain an indispensable condition of liberty. One leading Chinese economic reformer even suggested that there is less income inequality in those Chinese provinces where the market plays a larger role.

Ash’s minimal definition of liberalism fits in well with how I have used the word here, primarily based upon values including support for  individual liberty, free markets, restoring Constitutional limitations on the power of government, equality, science, and reason.

SciFi Weekend Part II: Lost in Time


The two genre shows with the most compelling mysteries both return this month. I already discussed the return of Battlestar Galactica in Part I of SciFi Weekend. Lost returns this week and many hints as to what to expect have been published.  TV Guide had an article (which I have not been able to find on line) in which executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse discussed ten episodes of the show which are important to understanding what happens in the upcoming seasons. I will briefly summarize the key points:

Season One: In Walkabout we  learned that Locke had been confined to his wheel chair before coming to the island. “Locke and his relation to the island is very central to the fifth season.” White Rabit showed Jack’s father Christian appearing alive on the island. “The fact that Christian’s wearing white tennis shoes is a mystery which will be answered this season.” In Deus Ex Machina Locke pleaded with an island and then a light appeared. This will be revisited and “we will learn the whole nature of why the Swan hatch exists.”

Season Two: The 23rd Psalm showed that the smoke monster could pull memories from a character’s life. We will learn more about the smoke monster this season. A giant four-toed statue is seen in Live Together, Die Alone. We will have to wait until the sixth season to find out what this statue means.

Season Three: Time travel will play a big part in the upcoming seasons. Desmond is shown to experience time in a nonlinear fashion in Flashes Before Your Eyes. The episode introduced Fionnula Flanigan and suggested that characters could not change their ultimate fate. We will see Fionnula again and she turns out to be “important in the overall storytelling of Lost. The Man Behind the Curtain showed some of Ben’s back story on the island. We will see more of Ben’s life and the Dharma Initiative this season.

Season Four: The Constant showed more of Desmond’s nonlinear experience of time, along with Faraday’s experiments. Desmond’s consciousness from 1996 inhabited his present body when he attempted to leave the island on the wrong bearing. We will see that incorrectly entering or exiting the island will play a crucial return when the members of the Oceanic Six attempt to return, and that the island “pulled off one doozy of a masquerade.” The Shape of Things to Come showed the power struggle between Ben Linus and Charles Whidmore. We will see more about this power struggle and whether neither or both are either bad or good guys. Everything is important in There’s No Place Like Home including the scenes involving Jacob. Locke’s faith will continue to be tested by the island and/or Jacob with “great personal sacrifice.” We will see Locke’s death midway thorough the season but the question of what the island wants from Locke won’t be seen until the sixth season.

If reviewing ten episodes for clues is too much, Entertainment Weekly looks at the clues in five episodes. Most of the episodes overlap with those mentioned above. The one episode which was not mentioned above is Cabin Fever from Season Four which showed Locke’s early life, including an encounter with  Richard Alpert who never seems to age–or was he traveling in time? Alpert apparently will be an important character this season.

Maureen Ryan also interviewed Lindelof and Cuse with the discussion including matters such as the importance of time travel, and the hazards this presents:

How do you keep the show grounded in emotions and characters, when it seems as though this season is poised to unspool a lot of the mythology and time travel and so forth? Is that a tricky balance to achieve?

Cuse: I don’t know if it’s a tricky balance. I think that this is what we always saw as the natural evolution of the show, that it would have more overt science-fiction and fantasy elements [as time went on] and that was sort of always our plan. I guess we would say our model is any of a number of great Spielberg movies, maybe even “E.T.,” as a primary example of a movie that has, obviously, very extreme science-fiction and fantasy elements, yet at its core it’s a deeply emotional story. We hope that even though we’re introducing these elements, we’re staying true to our central premise, which is that we’re making a character-based show.

Lindelof: I think the fun part for us, and this is not so much a challenge as something we hold ourselves to, is the idea that the characters react to these crazy things in real ways. So if you’re explaining to Sawyer something about time travel, he’s not going to say, “Oh, that makes sense.” He’s going to say, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard and I don’t like it and I don’t want to be on the time-travel show.”

As long as the different characters on our show have real reactions to the things that are happening around them, [it works]. I think if every single character on the show basically accepted that it’s their destiny to be on the island, with all these characters sitting around talking about their destiny all the time, [that doesn’t work]. Whereas our show — really, Locke is the only one who cares about the island. Jack cares about Jack, and Kate cares about Kate, even Hurley only cares about being jinxed most of the time.

You guys have opened up the time element of the show in this really interesting way, but how do you stop it from becoming a giant story problem? You know, “If a train left Pittsburgh going 50 miles an hour, and another train left Dallas going 25 miles an hour…” How do you make that time element clean and clear for people who might have trouble with it?

Lindelof: Carlton and I spent five weeks last year just breaking “The Constant,” with the entire writing staff. The reason it was so tricky was all these things you’re talking about, in terms of, “If Faraday told Desmond in 1996 to tell Penny to call him in 2004, wouldn’t she say to him …”

And then eventually, you get to a point of saying, “Are we breaking any rules, according to the rules we set, is it emotionally viable, and is it confusing?” So when we were sitting down to talk about Season 5, we were like, “We’re essentially breaking ‘The Constant’ every single week now.”

I think since we’ve gone through the process the first time, we learned valuable lessons. It is very challenging to do clean time-travel stories where you can’t change the future, but also rewarding when we accomplish it.

Obviously you accomplished that with “The Constant.” The reason that worked so well was because, as you were saying, it wasn’t about time travel per se, but about this relationship between two people. Did you know that was special when you were writing it?

Cuse: I think when we wrote it, we realized it was really hard [to do]. The reason, as Damon said, it took us five weeks to break the story was because we were relentless with each other about making sure that the story — we would not consider the story to be finished until it had emotional resonance.

We had to deal with all the consciousness-traveling craziness, but ultimately we felt the story would only be successful [under the following conditions:] Not only did the time-travel stuff have to make some sort of sense and follow its own logic, but there needed to be a really genuine emotional payoff. And it took a long time to get to a place where we felt both goals were accomplished. To echo what Damon said, that really became the template for us in terms of what our goal is this year.

Yes, time travel provides a really cool device that allows us to tell what we consider to be some really great adventure stories. But at the heart, these stories are really about the characters and what we’re most interested in, on a character level, is how are they affected by the consequences of time travel? That’s really what the show explores.

And the entire season isn’t overtly about time travel. It’s an element, but I think it would get really boring [to focus too much on that]. We’re not interested in — every week, you climb into a time machine. That’s not what the show’s going to be.

Part III of SciFi Weekend will look at shows including  Doctor Who, Torchwood, and 24.

It Looks Like I Have A Life (Barely)

Several blogs, including Apple of Doubt, ChickenGirl, The Athiest Blogger, and The Radula have posted this test. The claim is that if you have seen over 85 of these 219 movies you have no life. They invite others to post the list on their blogs and mark which they have seen.

As with most stupid internet tests, I’ll go along but also find this to be flawed.  I barely make it as having a life, but that wouldn’t change if I had seen a handful more. Plus I’ve seen plenty of movies which aren’t on the list.

Some of the oldest movies were seen when I was out on dates, with real live girls. Isn’t that having a life? Most were seen with my wife, although some might argue that the fact that we’ve watched so many movies together means that both of us have no life. At least we have no life together.

Many on the list, such as those staring Hillary Duff or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, were seen because of having a daughter. That is definitely having a life. Of course several of the more sci-fi type movies were also watched alone when my wife and daughter weren’t around. This, along with blogging, could be used to argue that one has no life.

For the hell of it, here’s the list of movies if others are interested in calculating their score and finding out if they have a life (or come close to not having one like me).  When they get to Flubber they stipulate the original. I actually saw both. (The original was actually named The Absent Minded Professor). In other cases where it isn’t stipulated I actually saw the original and sometimes have not seen the more recent remake, which might not be what  who ever made this list had in mind, but I still marked the movie as seen.

Here’s the list:

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show
(x) Grease
(  ) Pirates of the Caribbean
(  ) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
(x) Fight Club
( ) Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x) Blazing Saddles
( ) Universal Soldier
( ) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
(x) Along Came Polly
( ) Joe Dirt
( ) A Cinderella Story
(x) The Terminal
(x) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
(x) Passport to Paris
(x) Dumb & Dumber
( ) Dumber & Dumberer
( ) Final Destination
( ) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
( ) Halloween
( ) The Ring
( ) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving -MAS
(x) Flubber (Orignial)
( ) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
(x)Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
( ) Ghost Ship
( ) From Hell
( ) Hellboy
( ) Secret Window
(x)I Am Sam
( ) The Whole Nine Yards
( ) The Whole Ten Yards
( ) The Day After Tomorrow
( ) Child’s Play
( ) Seed of Chucky
( ) Bride of Chucky
( ) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
( ) Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles
( ) Remember the Titans
( ) Coach Carter
( ) The Grudge
( ) The Grudge 2
(x) The Mask
( ) Son Of The Mask
( ) Bad Boys
( ) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Sleven
(x) Ocean’s Eleven
( ) Ocean’s Twelve
(x) Bourne Identity
(x) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
( ) Bedazzled
( ) Predator I
( ) Predator II
( ) The Fog
( ) Ice Age
( ) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
(x) Curious George
(x) Independence Day
( ) Cujo
( ) A Bron Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
( ) Christine
(x) ET
( ) Children of the Corn
(x) My Bosses Daughter
(x) Maid in Manhattan
(x) War of the Worlds
( ) Rush Hour
( ) Rush Hour 2
( ) Best Bet
(x) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
( ) She’s All That
(x) Calendar Girls
(x) Sideways
(x)Mars Attacks
( ) Event Horizon
( ) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
(x) Forrest Gump
( ) Big Trouble in Little China
(x) The Terminator
(x)The Terminator 2
(x) The Terminator 3
(x) x2
(x) x-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
( ) Sky High
( ) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
(x)Catch Me If You Can
(x) The Little Mermaid
(x)Freaky Friday
( ) Reign of Fire
( ) The Skulls
( ) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
( ) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
(x) Shrek 2
( ) Swimfan
(x)Miracle on 34th street
( ) Old School
(x) The Notebook
( ) K-Pax
( ) Kippendorf’s Tribe
( ) A Walk to Remember
( ) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
(x) The 40-year-old-virgin
(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x)Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(x)Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(x)Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
( ) Baseketball
( ) Hostel
( ) Waiting for Guffman
( ) House of 1000 Corpses
( ) Devils Rejects
(x) Elf
( ) Highlander
( ) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History
( ) Three
( ) The Jacket
( ) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Night Watch
(x)Monsters Inc.
(x) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
( ) Shaun Of the Dead
( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
( ) Dawn Of the Dead
(x) Hook
(x)Chronicle Of Narnia The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
( ) 28 days later
( ) Orgazmo
( ) Phantasm
( ) Waterworld
( ) Kill Bill vol 1
( ) Kill Bill vol 2
( ) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
( ) Kingdom of Heaven
( ) the Hills Have Eyes
( ) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
( ) The Last House on the Left
( ) Re-Animator
( ) Army of Darkness
(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
(x)Ewoks The Battle For Endor
(x)The Matrix
(x)The Matri Reloaded
(x)The Matri Revolutions
( ) Animatri
( ) Evil Dead
( ) Evil Dead 2
( ) Team America: World Police
( ) Red Dragon
(x)Silence of the Lambs
( ) Hannibal
( ) Battle Royale
( ) Battle Royale 2
( ) Cube
(x)Dr. Strangelove
( ) Enlightenment Guaranteed
( ) Four Rooms
( ) Pi
( ) Requiem for a Dream
(x) Pulp Fiction
( ) Reservoir Dogs
()  Run Lola Run
( ) Russian Ark
(x)Sin City
( ) Snatch
( ) Spider
( ) The Sixth Sense
( ) The Village
( ) Waking Life
( ) Zatoichi
( ) Ikiru
(x)The Seven Samurai
( ) Brick
( ) Akira