SciFi Weekend: Months of Doctor Who Speculation To Come; The 100 Returns; Gotham; Star Trek Discovery Starts Production; Renewals; Supergirl; Powerless; 12 Monkeys

Just as we struggle to get used to the transition in Washington, there is another huge transition to look forward to. As I posted earlier in the week, the big news is that Peter Capaldi has announced that he will leave as the Doctor, with his last appearance on Doctor Who to be in the 2017 Christmas special. There might be speculation for many months as to the next Doctor, with reports that incoming show runner  Chris Chibnall will be waiting until next fall to chose a replacement as he is currently busy with completing the third and final season of Broadchurch, and then plans a vacation. There are also reports that he will not start filming Doctor Who until early 2018, with the show not airing until fall, giving us another long gap between seasons.

The speculation regarding the next actor to play the Doctor appears to be concentrating even more on having the first woman or non-white Doctor than in the past. Digital Spy looked at some of the top female contenders for the part.  David Tennant backs his costar on Broadchurch, Olivia Coleman. Peter Capaldi suggests Frances de la Tour. Billie Piper is also calling for a woman to receive the role (but has no interest in doing it herself).

Just to be clear, my opposition to Hillary Clinton replacing Peter Capaldi is not sexist and does not indicate an opposition to having the first female Doctor. My opposition is just to that woman. Hillary Clinton is terrible at acting. Look at what happened when she tried to act like a progressive. There are plenty of far more qualified choices being discussed, such as Hayley Atwell or Lara Pulver, along with those mentioned above. Jill Stein would be a far better choice, and is even a real doctor. I would chose to have Barack Obama be the first black Doctor before picking Clinton. Joe Biden would also be an excellent choice, having a similar look to Jon Pertwee. I disagree with those who say that Bernie Sanders would be too old or too far left for the role, although I see him more as a Jedi Knight than a Time Lord. Of course, #NeverTrump. However, if they decide to have a regeneration of the War Doctor after the recent death of John Hurt, then Hillary Clinton (aka The Queen of Chaos) should be a top choice.

Season 4 of The 100 began just after where season 3 left off. If anyone hoped that ALIE was lying about the nuclear reactors melting down, the episode graphically demonstrated that the survivors of the first apocalypse are now facing a second one. Eliza Taylor discussed Clarke’s role in the upcoming season:

“We’re picking up directly where we left off,” Taylor told us on set in Vancouver. “We’ve just discovered that the world’s going to end, again. Just another day on the ground. This whole season’s mostly based around how we’re going to deal with fighting an enemy that we can’t go to war with, so it’s going to prove very interesting.”

As of now, Clarke is the only one with the knowledge that the world is going to end … again. The rest of Skaikru and the Grounders have no idea, and as season four begins they’re all going to have their hands full with picking up the pieces of their respective civilizations after ALIE took over their minds and convinced so many people, both Skaikru and Grounders alike, to kill themselves and their loved ones all in the name of the now-destroyed “City of Light.” Will Clarke tell everyone about ALIE’s warning, or will she keep this revelation to herself?

“It’s something that she has to be really careful about because she’s just taken all these people out of a beautiful city that they were happy [in] and brought them back into a world that’s about to end,” Taylor said. “She has to be very careful about how she goes about telling people without starting a riot. You will see more of her relying on her friends and family, which is good because it’s kind of like the old crew being back together again. It feels like season one again, which is awesome.”

While Clarke has always been the de facto leader of the 100 juvenile delinquents sent down to Earth, with help from Bellamy (Bob Morley), when the rest of the Ark came down from space, the adults didn’t listen to Clarke’s guidance. They thought they knew how to lead better, and they’ve been proven wrong time and time again. With Chancellor Pike (Mike Beach) murdered by Octavia (Marie Avgeropolous) and Jaha (Isaiah Washington) officially fallen from grace after he helped ALIE take over, Clarke will finally take the leadership position that is rightfully hers.

“She’s definitely stepping up more and accepting herself as the leader, which is really great,” Taylor said with a smile. “It’s really fun to feel like she’s asserting herself and not taking any s-t from people who don’t know as much as she does exactly what’s going on.”

Jason Rothenberg also discussed plans for Clarke, plus other characters, in an interview with Nerdist.

Gotham is going on hiatus and (spoiler alert), having left with Jerome being pushed in the river after being shot. He has already returned from the dead once, and it seems commonplace for characters to survive being dropped in that river. The original plan was for Jerome to just be a precursor of the Joker, but it now appears that he is actually being considered as the Joker. Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome, discussed how the original plan was to kill him off even earlier in the season:

But according to Monaghan, that wasn’t the original ending the Gotham showrunners had planned for this episode and his character—in fact, Jerome wasn’t supposed to survive the winter finale at all.

“I don’t think the producers will mind me saying that initially Jerome wasn’t going to live,” Monaghan told Nerdist. “He wasn’t originally going to make it through this confrontation. He was going to be beheaded and that was going to be it for him. Ultimately they decided that instead, we’ll go the opposite way and really embrace the idea of the character being involved in the Joker mythos. They decided not to dance around it but instead embrace it and bring the audience on the roller coaster ride of the episode, allowing it to be open-ended, playing into whatever they decide to do with that stuff later down the line.”

He continued, “The first time I read that final scene, I didn’t even really know about that or think about it or care about it because I was just so excited about everything else that was going on in the script. But now the fact that I am able to return in the fourth season or whenever they want to bring me back is really exciting.”

When Monaghan first debuted on Gotham back in season one, the showrunners didn’t officially call him the Joker, explaining instead that his character was the earliest inspiration for the Joker, who would come later. But now, it looks like the show is finally coming out and saying that Jerome is the Joker, at least for the DC Comics TV universe.

CBS announced that Star Trek: Discovery has started production. Air date is still unknown, with the previously announced date already having been moved back twice. There was also additional casting news, with Emily Coutts as the helmsman.

I recently noted that, following the inauguration of Donald Trump, 1984 had moved up to be the number six best selling book on Amazon. It is currently at number two, and had made it up to number one recently. As it was sold out for a while, this might possibly account for its slip to number two. Some other books to consider following the inauguration of Donald Trump, both alternate histories, were discussed here.

We will see the outcome of that huge plot twist on The Good Place, as the show has been renewed for a second season. Mozart in the Jungle has been renewed for a fourth season by Amazon. TNT has renewed The Librarians.

Supergirl has already used a number of actors who have played characters in the Superman universe. Teri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane in Lois & Clark, has been cast to play a villain later this season. Aftermath has been cancelled.

Over in another corner of the DC universe, Powerless debuted. It is too early to evaluate the show and I want to see more of it. Screen Rant lists sixteen DC Easter eggs and other references.

12 Monkeys will have its cast reunite in the 1980’s when it returns.

SciFi Weekend: Top Twenty New Shows Of 2016; Mary Tyler Moore and John Hurt Die; Genre Novels In The Age Of Trump; Riverdale Premieres

With over four hundred scripted shows (expected to surpass 500 in 2017) it is probably impossible for any one person to fairly rank the best of any season. Even many professional television critics, who don’t have another day job interfering, have said  how difficult it is to watch all the shows to do their end of year rankings. To make it more manageable, and to get around problems of listing the same top shows every year, I have limited this to the best new shows every season. Last year’s list is here and the top new shows of 2014 were listed here.

It got even harder this year with so many new streaming shows, some not dropping until December. In order to include more shows, I waited until the end of January to post the list. As usual, there are shows which I have heard very good things about which I have not watched at all. I put in a couple of shows towards the end of the list which I only watched parts of the season, and might rank them higher if I were to watch more. Also, as usual, it is very difficult to compare shows from different genre’s, or shows watched months apart. If you disagree with some of the rankings, it is very likely I also might agree and rank them differently if I were to do this on a different day. The real point of lists such as this is to point out shows which were worth watching.

Top 20 New Shows Of 2016

20. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW Network)

If based upon the premiere of the show in early 2016, this show would not have made the list, however it was much better when it returned for a second season in the fall. If you gave up on it last year, as I almost did, it is worth another look.

19. Class (BBC)

A Doctor Who spinoff aimed at an older audience than TheMary Jane Adventures. Torchwood (in its early years) remains the only spinoff I consider must see, but fans should find this enjoyable. It aired in the UK last fall, and will be shown in the U.S. this spring after Doctor Who. While I understand the decision in the U.S., I personally found it to be of more value as a fall show to fill the gap when, besides the Christmas episode, there was no true Doctor Who.

18. Fleabag (Amazon Prime)

I wasn’t as in love with this show as the critics, but if you have Amazon Prime, it is well worth checking it out and deciding for  yourself. The entire season is only about three hours, making it essentially a long movie. There is a definite payoff to some of the events of the season in the finale.

17. Atlanta (FX)

Another show which many would probably rank higher. I started watching when it premiered, but then it got forgotten in September because of a combination of being busy with personal matters and the premiers of all the fall shows. It very could rank higher after I see more.

16. Dirk Gentry’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America)

A fun and very quirky genre show which, by the end, definitely qualifies as science fiction.

15. Billions (Showtime)

An entertaining cable series. It’s most important benefit was to give Damian Lewis somewhere else to go to make sure they didn’t get desperate and try to bring him back to life on Homeland.

14. Speechless (ABC)

A few years ago it looked like network sitcoms were on the verge of death, beyond The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. ABC has managed to continue to make worthwhile sitcoms with the Modern Family formula, including Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, and now Speechless.

13. Goliath (Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thorton makes what could have been a run of the mill lawyer show well worth watching

12. The Crown (Netflix)

A young queen ascends to the thrown in a high budget presentation. She receives advice from the prime minister and is married to a foreigner played by Matt Smith, who adds a bit of whimsy to the show.

11. Victoria (ITV and PBS)

A young queen ascends to the thrown in a not-so-high budget presentation. She receives advice from the prime minister and is married to a foreigner. This also has strong connections to the Doctor Who world including Victoria being played by Jenna Coleman, with supporting cast including Eve Myles from Torchwood. It doesn’t have the budget of The Crown, but in deciding upon the ranking I deferred to my wife’s opinion. This aired in the UK last fall and recently started airing in the United States on PBS.

10. Luke Cage (Netflix)

The latest introduction of a Marvel character on Netflix. It could not meet the extremely high bar set last year by Jessica Jones, but was better than the second season of Daredevil.

9. The Magicians (Syfy)

Much more than an adult Harry Potter, but that would make a starting point to explain what this series is about. Yes, it did technically have an advanced showing of the pilot in 2015, but I’ll still consider this to essentially be a 2016 series. I watched the uncut episodes later in the year, and the editing for television on the premier episode of the second season last week was noticeable.

8. The Good Place (NBC)

A sitcom which has a continuing story, a genre element, discusses philosophy, plus has Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Extra points for having one of the best plot twists on television in recent years.

7. This Is Us (NBC)

I thought that quality drama was dead on NBC with the ending of Parenthood, but this fills the gap. It had a fairly good twist of its own in the pilot but, unlike in The Good Place, I saw this one coming. The bigger surprise was that Mandy Moore could do such a good job acting. Sure it is full of old television cliches and spends most episodes tugging at the heart strings, but it does a good job of it.

6. 11.22.63 (Hulu)

Received mixed views but I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of the Stephen King time travel novel. (No comparison between this and the messed up adaptation of  Under the Dome). More on the show here.

5. Travelers (Showcase and Netflix)

Another low budget Canadian science fiction series filmed in Vancouver. This one is well-written and highly recommended, plus now easily available in the US on Netflix. The premise is that travelers from the future send their consciousness back to our present to prevent an apocalyptic future, taking over the bodies of people at the time of their recorded death. (I was  hoping that something like this would happen on January 20.) Besides having to attend to their mission, the travelers have to cope with the lives they took over–and sometimes their information was a bit off.

4. The Night Of (HBO)

A great self-contained story which shows both problems in the criminal justice system and xenophobia.

3. The Night Manager (BBC and AMC)

An excellent adaptation of the John le Carré novel. It was such a success that BBC and AMC are planning a second adaptation.

2. Stranger Things (Netflix)

The surprise hit from last summer. The series, with explanations of the finale, was discussed here.

1. West World (HBO)

The most discussed new show of the season, with mainstream critics also falling for this science fiction series. I looked at the show at various times, with a discussion of the season finale here.

There are also shows which might make the list which I did not see. I didn’t see any point in rehashing the O.J. Simpson story, but note that The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story  (FX) has received considerable critical acclaim. Many other shows, including genre dramas such as The OA (Netflix) and comedies such as One Mississippi (Amazon Prime) are also recommended by many people.

In past years I have found shows which I did not see when new, but saw them in subsequent years and thought they deserved to be in my rankings. This year I caught up on season one and two of Dark Matter (Syfy) and loved the show. I then tried Killjoys (Syfy) and didn’t get into it. I only watched the first episode, which might not be enough to judge it. I also thought that perhaps I was expecting Dark Matter and it might be better to watch some other shows before trying it again so I could judge it on its own merit.

It is notable that, once again, cable (both basic and premium), British imports, and especially streaming, dominate the list, with very little from the major American networks.

2016 ended with the loss of one beloved actress, Carrie Fisher, and began with the loss of another, Mary Tyler Moore. Later in the week, John Hurt died. While he is more famous for other roles, among science fiction fans he might be best remembered as the War Doctor for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary.

The past two weekends also were dominated by protests against Donald Trump. Earlier this week I looked at one good thing to come from Trump’s election–people are talking about books. This includes the classic 1984, as well as two other novels in which populist authoritarians became president. Even Doctor Who has been cited in discussion of the alternative facts coming from the Trump administration.

This week included the return of several genre shows, as well as the premiere of The CW’s reimagination of Archie comics, Riverdale. After watching Riverdale, I have three questions:

1) Who killed Jason Blossom?
2) What real teen talks about Truman Capote and about Mad Men by season?
3) And the old classic question, Betty or Veronica?

Alternative Facts, George Orwell, And Doctor Who

The election of Donald Trump appears to be stimulating reading along with protests. The Hill reports a surge in sale of George Orwell’s novel 1984 after Kellyanne Conway said that the White House press secretary gave “alternative facts” after he made false statements about the crowd size at the inauguration. Alternative facts sounds alarmingly like the newspeak and doublethink of 1984.  1984 moved up to the sixth best selling book on Amazon on Tuesday. Sales of 1984 also surged in 2013 in response to the revelations from Edward Snowden regarding NSA surveillance.

1984 is probably the most famous literary criticism of the techniques used by authoritarian regimes, but other sources have also been discussed following the inauguration of Donald Trump. Yesterday I posted about two novels, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Both novels involved an alternative history in which populist politicians promising to  make America great defeated FDR and established dictatorships.

Doctor Who fans have been giving the show credit for predicting this forty hears ago in an episode in which the Doctor, then played by Tom Baker, said, “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.”

Boing Boing used the format of Little Golden Books to make the above mock cover for The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts. The cover presents all you really need to know as to what alternate facts really are.

Seth Meyers compared Kellyanne Coneway’s statement to a Jedi novice:  “Kellyanne Conway is like someone trying to do the Jedi mind trick after only a week of Jedi training. ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for.’ ‘Yeah, they are, those are my droids.’ ‘No, these are alternative robots.'”

I suspect that the Trump administration might be associated with this meme forever. After he dies, Donald Trump’s tombstone might read: “Alternative Fact: He Was A Really Great President.”

Creating A State Of Perpetual Warfare

Orwell Continuous War

The Orwellian aspects of our foreign policy have been apparent to its opponents for quite a while. Former CIA officer Barry Eisler did not mention Orwell in an article on perpetual warfare at Boing Boing but either he was considering several aspects of warfare in 1984 or came to similar views as Orwell independently. Some excerpts:

If you were the government and wanted to maintain a state of perpetual war, how would you go about it?

First, you’d need an enemy, of course, but that part would be pretty straightforward. After all, if the US government could convince the citizenry that Iraq was the 9/11 enemy but that Saudi Arabia was our friend when nineteen out of the twenty 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, it’s fair to say that just about anything is possible.

But the next part would be harder. On the one hand, you’d have to claim progress in the war so that the citizenry would maintain its support for the war. On the other hand, you couldn’t actually defeat the enemy, lest the war end.

Eisler here was referring to the latest in a long string of news reports on a significant victory, such as killing a key member of ISIS, while nothing actually changes.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that according to the Pentagon, we’ve achieved yet another concrete War on Terror victory, while according to American officials and counterterrorism specialists, outright victory is still intangible and elusive. Maybe it’s a coincidence that this narrative is precisely the one a team of social scientists would devise if tasked to come up with something that would maintain indefinite support for a never-ending war.

But it would be foolish not to at least wonder. War is awful for almost everyone. But for a few narrow factions, there’s a lot of money to be made and power to be accrued. You could even go out on a limb and argue that war is a racket.

While in 1984,”We‘ve always been at war with Eastasia” the enemy does periodically change. Eisler points out that this could be happening with our perpetual war:

If you were really clever, you’d probably want a backup enemy–a Plan B in case the current enemy du jour were ever somehow actually defeated. In which regard, maybe it’s a coincidence that we are now being told we are now in a new cold war with a resurgent Russia and that Vladimir Putin is behind everything bad in the world. But once again, it would be foolish not to at least wonder.

In 2008, Barack Obama was the peace candidate, yet the war continues and the use of drones has increased. The choices in 2016 appear even worse. Hillary Clinton is probably the most hawkish war monger to run for president in recent memory. Besides pushing for the Iraq war based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, she is the architect of our disastrous policy in Libya, and wanted to repeat the same mistakes in Syria based on absurd arguments. She has also been pushing to extend the conflict to Russia, with a new Cold War, if not an outright hot war.

Her opponent, Donald Trump, has at times spoken out against Clinton’s interventionism, but has been far too incoherent on foreign policy (and everything else) to be seen as a serious alternative. While Clinton appears most likely to win, with Clinton’s favorability at records lows Trump has been cutting into Clinton’s lead, including pulling into a tie in the latest Reuter’s poll.

Third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson might provide a real difference but are marginalized by our system, not even being allowed in the presidential debates, despite widespread dislike for the major party candidates. Just today, Bernie Sanders did say that the threshold for minor parties participating in the debates should be lowered. It is unlikely we will see any real change, or an end to our perpetual war, unless other voices are heard.

Throwback Thursday: Hillary 1984

Those running against Hillary Clinton need an ad like this one from eight years ago.

No, Hillary Clinton Is Not Going To Send You Off To “Camp”

Clinton Camp Speech

I have been critical of Hillary Clinton for her secrecy and poor history on government transparency, her neoconservative foreign policy views, her conservative views on social issues, her mismanagement of health  care reform, and her overall poor judgement. I am not going to defend her just because she has a D after her name, or because she is a female candidate.

There are plenty of attacks from the right which Clinton does deserve defending on, even if Clinton does often deflect from liberal criticism with all the bat-shit crazy attacks coming from the right. Conservatives have spoken of being taken off to FIMA Camps since that Muslim, Socialist, Marxist (in their view) Barack Obama took office. It didn’t come to pass, but now watch them twist a speech given by Clinton to actual camp owners into something equally menacing.

The Daily Caller wrote:

As I have gotten older, I have decided we really need camps for adults,” she said to laughter. “And we need the kind of camps you all run.”

“None of the serious stuff, not of the life-challenging stuff; more fun!” Clinton continued. “I think we have a huge fun deficit in America. And we need to figure it out how to fill that fun deficit, certainly for our kids, but also for the rest.” (RELATED: RNC Releases Satirical Emails From Hillary Clinton)

In these camps, Clinton wants Americans to really concentrate on the important things. “We need some reminder about life skills from time to time, maybe some enrichment, certainly some time outdoors.”

On an entirely unrelated note, “joycamp” was the Newspeak term for forced labor camps in George Orwell’s “1984.”

Hopefully this was written tongue in cheek, but I bet it won’t be long until your crazy Republican uncle cites this speech in their anti-Clinton email.

Several news reports also predict this will be her last paid speech, anticipating that Clinton will announce her candidacy in early April. Federal campaign finance laws to provide incentives to declare early in a quarter, to maximize reports of fund raising for each quarter. Clinton would be smart to formally get in the race and speak out on issues. Lying about her email didn’t  help her, but speaking out on issues might result in the media devoting more coverage to this and less to her scandals.

Federal Judge Rules NSA Surveillance Is Unconstitutional

Earlier this year, Edward Snowden released information on NSA surveillance, including the accumulation of information on American citizens which appears to be far in excess of either what is necessary or what is allowed under the Constitution. A federal judge agreed with this criticism today:

A Federal District Court judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, and he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs’ personal calls and destroy the records of their calling history.

In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia called the program’s technology “almost Orwellian” and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Leon wrote that old judicial decisions with regards to privacy rights need to be reevaluated in light of modern technology with previous cases (such as Smith vs. Maryland)  not necessarily remaining relevant:

[T]he almost-Orwellian technology that enables the Government to store and analyse the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979. In Smith, the Supreme Court was actually considering whether local police could collect one person’s phone records for calls made after the pen register was installed and for the limited purpose of a small-scale investigation of harassing phone calls. The notion that the Government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction.

More on the decision at SCOTUS Blog.

This decision will most likely be appealed and ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

The Technological Power Of The Surveillance State

Person of Interest Surveillance

When material leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that NSA surveillance is far greater than previously known, and greater than authorized under current laws, I had quipped that the next revelation would be that the machine on Person of Interest is real. We haven’t reached quite that point yet, but two new reports demonstrates that  intelligence-gathering capabilities are getting quite close.

The Wall Street Journal reports on how the NSA’s surveillance systems can penetrate 75 percent of the internet traffic in the country, including content as well as metadata, using algorithms and filtering techniques to sift through the data.

Previous reports have indicated that the NSA’s surveillance of telecommunications lines in the U.S. focuses on international gateways and landing points. Other reports have indicated that surveillance of the U.S. telecom network was used to gather only metadata under a program that the NSA says ended in 2011.

The Journal reporting demonstrates that the NSA, in conjunction with telecommunications companies, has built a system that can reach deep into the U.S. Internet backbone and cover 75% of traffic in the country, including not only metadata but the content of online communications. The report also explains how the NSA relies on probabilities, algorithms and filtering techniques to sift through the data and find information related to foreign intelligence investigations.

The New York Times reports on facial recognition to scan crowds:

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.

The Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning project called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System — or BOSS — last fall after two years of government-financed development. Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances. That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

There have been stabs for over a decade at building a system that would help match faces in a crowd with names on a watch list — whether in searching for terrorism suspects at high-profile events like a presidential inaugural parade, looking for criminal fugitives in places like Times Square or identifying card cheats in crowded casinos.

The automated matching of close-up photographs has improved greatly in recent years, and companies like Facebook have experimented with it using still pictures.

But even with advances in computer power, the technical hurdles involving crowd scans from a distance have proved to be far more challenging. Despite occasional much-hyped tests, including one as far back as the 2001 Super Bowl, technical specialists say crowd scanning is still too slow and unreliable.

This facial recognition technology appears to be five years off from being fully workable. Of course the real fear of the misuse of these programs doesn’t come from technology reminiscent of Person of Interest but the potential misuse of the technology more reminiscent of  works by George Orwell and Franz Kafka.

 

Orwellian and Kafkaesque Aspects Of NSA Surveillance

The revelations regarding NSA surveillance has led to a boom in sales of 1984. Further exposure to Orwell’s work is one good outcome of the recent leaks, showing the ultimate results of a totalitarian surveillance state. As I’ve pointed out before, to actually compare our current situation to 1984 is a tremendous act of hyperbole. The problem is not that we are experiencing anything as severe as the society portrayed in 1984 but that the NSA surveillance program is one step on the road towards developing the infrastructure which might make such a society possible. Those who run the intelligence programs should remain servants of the people in a free society, not masters. While we expect accept a certain degree of secrecy, this does not justify outright lies by leaders of the intelligence community such as James Clapper,director of national intelligence, in speeches and testimony before Congress.

Orwell provides many things to think about beyond surveillance. Consider his concepts of “War is Peace, ” “Freedom is Slavery,” or facts disappearing down the memory hole. The NSA surveillance program poses a serious threat to liberty, but to keep things in perspective, there are far more Orwellian threats to liberty which we face, such as Fox News. Promoting such propaganda as news is quite hazardous to a free society where we want self-rule by people who vote based upon facts, while living in a free society prevents any action against such anti-freedom propagandists beyond aggressively exposing their tactics. To the right wing, “Ignorance is Strength.”

1984 is the obvious classic to read when considering the risks of slipping into totalitarianism. There are many others worth reading, such as Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. There might also be novels which are more pertinent to what we are facing. Yesterday Rebecca Rosen quoted Daniel J. Solove in describing why another novel might be more applicable:

I suggested a different metaphor to capture the problems: Franz Kafka’s The Trial, which depicts a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people’s information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used. The problems captured by the Kafka metaphor are of a different sort than the problems caused by surveillance. They often do not result in inhibition or chilling. Instead, they are problems of information processing–the storage, use, or analysis of data–rather than information collection. They affect the power relationships between people and the institutions of the modern state. They not only frustrate the individual by creating a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, but they also affect social structure by altering the kind of relationships people have with the institutions that make important decisions about their lives.

The surveillance can certainly be called Orwellian. The laws which try to hide the very existence of surveillance are more Kafkaesque.

This debate over security versus privacy and liberty has been needed since September 12, 2001 but I suspect that most of the country was not ready for it until now. The first poll taken on this subject by Pew showed that 56 percent supported the NSA program of tracking phone records. Gallup now has  slightly more recent poll out, which includes the revelations regarding both telephone data and the more recently revealed inclusion of internet communications. Gallup found that fifty-three percent disapprove and only thirty-seven percent approve of these programs.

Barack Obama has been quiet on this subject, frustrating many of his supporters. I hope that this means that another debate is going on, between the views of candidate Obama and those of President Obama. We have seen Obama’s views evolve on other issues, such as support for same sex marriage. Obama discussed the issue of privacy rights versus security before the recent leaks. I am hoping that the current public debate prompts further evolution on this issue, or devolution back to the views he expressed as a candidate.

SciFi Weekend: Fringe & Other TV Shows; Scientology; Lisbeth Salander As Libertarian & Leftist Heroine; The Ultimate “Leftist” Novel

This week’s episode of Fringe appeared to be a stand-alone story until late in the episode. I was surprised to find that it tied into the ongoing mythology of the show by having the results of Alan Ruck’s experiments, which never should have worked, become successful in making people lighter than air due to the laws of physics breaking down as a result of the rift between the universes.

The story also featured Walter obsessing about bringing William Bell back to live, along with getting high with Jorge Garcia of Lost, at Massive Dynamic. There was a lot of Peter and Olivia. Somehow seeing our Olivia smiling this much just didn’t look right. It looked more natural in Fauxlivia. The episode ended with another surprise as Anna Torv now has a  third charter to play–William Bell possessing the poor Olivia’s body. One can just imagine what that would do should Peter get Olivia into bed again. There’s no doubt that this will lead to the return of William Bell’s physical body with Leonard Nimoy confirming on Twitter that he has already come out of retirement.

BBC America has announced that the upcoming season of Doctor Who will premier April 23 at 9:00 p.m. There’s no official date from the BBC, but there are rumors that they are also airing the first episode on April 23 and the second of the two-parter on April 24. If true, hopefully BBC America will also air both parts the first week and not fall a week behind.

Among last week’s television shows, V appears to be ending the season with more enjoyable shows, despite the numerous plot holes which persist. The Event returned, but it remains questionable as to how long they can drag out this storyline. The Cape’s final unaired episode has been  posted on line. Terra Nova, a Steven Spielberg produced show about people escaping to the prehistoric past, has been moved back from May until next fall.

Michael Crowley has an article at Slate noting L. Ron Hubbard’s 100th birthday, noting “how truly strange Scientology is.” If we were going to have a science fiction writer devise a religion which has as many followers as Scientology, why couldn’t it be one more along the lines of the freer religions devised in novels by Robert A. Heinlein?

Benjamin Kerstein at Pajamas Media questions how a leftist such as Stieg Larsson managed “to create a libertarian parable for the ages” with Lisbeth Salander in his Millennium Trilogy:

Lisbeth Salander explodes like a grenade tossed into an ammunition dump. Ferociously individualist, incorruptible, disdainful, and suspicious of all forms of social organization, and dedicated to her own personal moral code, Salander often seems to have stepped into Larsson’s world from out of an Ayn Rand novel. She despises all institutions, whether they are business corporations, government agencies, or the Stockholm police. Rejecting all forms of ideology, she is dedicated only to her own individual sense of justice. Relentlessly cerebral, she trusts only what she can ascertain with her own mind and her own formidable talents. She considers Blomquist a naïve fool because of his belief that social conditions cause people to commit the horrible crimes he investigates. At one point, as Blomquist ponders the motivations of a brutal serial killer, Salander erupts, “He’s just a pig who hates women!” Salander believes there are no excuses, everyone is responsible for their own actions, including herself, and must answer for them accordingly.

In short, Salander is as close to an avenging angel libertarianism is ever likely to get, and her presence in the novels throws the books’ politics into a bizarre contradiction. Far from the left-wing bromide in favor of democratic socialism it appears to be, the Millennium trilogy, as Ian MacDougall has pointed out in the leftist journal n+1, often appears on second glance like a calculated and relentless evisceration of the Swedish welfare state. Indeed, not only is Salander a walking rebuke to the myths of Scandinavian socialism, but she  is usually portrayed by Larsson as being absolutely correct in her attitude toward it. “In this Sweden,” MacDougall writes:

The country’s well-polished façade belies a broken apparatus of government whose rusty flywheels are little more than the playthings of crooks. The doctors are crooked. The bureaucrats are crooked. The newspapermen are crooked. The industrialists and businessmen, laid bare by merciless transparency laws, are nevertheless crooked. The police and the prosecutors are crooked.

In Larsson’s world, it is only the individual — usually Salander — with their own personal sense of right and wrong and the courage to act on it, who can save the day.

It is, perhaps, telling that millions of readers around the world, whatever their political orientation, have become fans of the Millennium series and especially of Lisbeth Salander. Indeed, it appears that Steig Larsson, though he himself might have been horrified at the prospect, gave birth to one of the great literary ironies of our time: for reasons that will likely forever remain unknown, a Scandinavian leftist managed to create a libertarian parable for the ages.

I find this far less ironic than Kerstein, who sees far too much of the right wing stereotype of the left as opposed to the actual views of those on the left. The left actually contains people of a variety of view points, and many do not support the big-government stereotype which the right commonly uses. Many on us on the left are far closer to individualist anarchists at heart, opposing the right wing as the actual supporters of big government and authoritarianism.

While I don’t know terribly much about Stieg Larsson, from what I have read about him, Larsson’s “leftism” appeared to have concentrated on opposing the authoritarian threat from the far right. As sometimes happens, Larsson also appears to have bee to quick to see his enemy’s enemies as his friends, which has led to far too many people on the left to become overly sympathetic to aspects to the left which are better off avoided.

To see Lisbeth Salander as supporting libertarianism is overly simplistic (analogous to how libertarianism itself is an overly simplistic view of the world). Salander appeals to both libertarians and to those on the left who I referred to above as are far closer to individualist anarchists at heart. Such people on the left are attracted to such anarchism and disrespect for authority but also see the limitations to such a philosophy in the real world which libertarians do not.

Larrson both made Salander an appealing character on one level while also showing as the trilogy progressed how her attitudes were shaped by her troubled youth. Salander’s world view is appealing to part of us, but most people have grown up to understand the limitations in such a world view. Libertarians, along with Lisbeth Salander, have ideas and attitudes we can respect, but ultimately both libertarians and Salander are flawed people who have not grown up to understand the real world.

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen was asked to name the ultimate left wing novel. His answer is quite different from mine, showing the differences in views and emphasis on the left which I noted above. Cowen’s answer:

What jumps to mind is Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but if you read the request carefully it does not qualify.  Here is a list of thirty famous left-wing novels, heavy on the mid- to late nineteenth century.  There is Bronte, Dickens, Hugo, Sinclair, Zola, Gorky, Jack London, and Edward Bellamy.  None of these books is as analytically or philosophically comprehensive as the novels of Ayn Rand.

I would say that the story per se is usually left-wing, in both good and bad ways.  It elevates the seen over the unseen, can easily portray a struggle for justice, focuses on the anecdote, and encourages us to judge social institutions by the intentions of the people who work in them, rather than looking at their deeper and longer-term outcomes.  Precisely because the story is itself so left-wing, there won’t be a definitive example of the left-wing novel.  Story-telling encourages context-dependent thinking, although not necessarily in an accurate manner.  One notable feature of Atlas Shrugged is how frequently the story-telling stops for a long speech or an extended dialogue, in order to explain some first principles to the reader.

Grapes of Wrath was an excellent work, and is one which I might expect from the branch of the left more concerned with economics. With my concerns more centered around opposing right wing encroachments on civil liberties, my answer would be quite different. Three books immediately came to mind, with only one book making the list in the link above–It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

The other two which I immediately thought of were both by George Orwell: 1984 and Animal Farm. I’d pick 1984 as the answer to the question of picking the one ultimate book. Besides the messages of the book it remains even better known than Atlas Shrugged, and also stopped the story-telling for extended periods to make political points.

1984, while always an excellent choice for its opposition to totalitarianism, is even more significant today in light of the Orwellian distortions commonly used by the right wing. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” One might almost think that Orwell was aware of the current American right wing in writing this.

To the  right wing freedom often means the “freedom” to impose their views upon others. Their support for the perpetual warfare state has clear parallels to Orwell’s work. Most disturbing of all is the manner in which the right wing supports Sarah Palin/Tea Party style ignorance as it opposes science, reason, and factual sources of information which do not follow the distortions they spread.