SciFi Friday: Somethings New

For the beginning of August there is a surprising amount of new material. Masters of Science Fiction premiered last week, but it is hard to see a show aired on Saturday night during midsummer surviving. The concept is certainly worthwhile as four short stories by established science fiction writers will be presented. The first episode, A Clean Escape, was mixed. The story centers around a psychiatrist and a patient who has blocked out his past. We learn a little at a time, and the final result certainly has relevance in a world with an out of control president who endangers our national security.

The problem I had with the episode was that the ultimate revelation was dramatic but left me wondering if it was really worth all the effort the psychiatrist put into such a transient victory. Even more puzzling was the suggestion at the end that they were repeating this. I also might have been a little disappointed in the episode as recently I’ve been reading some novels by Richard Powers who uses his background in neuropsychology to do far more than what can be done in a one hour television show.

I also picked up the direct to DVD Lost Tales from Babylon 5. It was nice to see the old station again, with the stories taking place after the events of the major arc but before its destruction. Unfortunately the stories could have remained lost. If they were shown as part of the regular series, both stories on the DVD would have been seen as below average episodes.

The latest remake of Flash Gordon premiers on SciFi Channel tonght. Reviews have not been very good, but at least I’ll record it and see how the buzz about the show is tomorrow. Weeds returns on Monday, followed by the premier of Californication, staring David Duchovny, on Showtime.

Doctor Who will be new to many in the United States tonight. Tonight’s episode, The Lazarus Experiment, is average but does contain elements which are important in the three part season finale. There are also some reports regarding next season. Catherine Tate, returning in her role of Donna from the Christmas episode, searches out The Doctor following an alien threat to London, and remains with him for the season. During the season they will meet Agatha Christie, and will go to the home planet of the Ood from the second season.

Freema Agyeman returns to Doctor Who midseason as Martha Jones, but first appears on a few episodes of the Doctor Who spin off Torchwood. The more mature nature of the show required some rewrites to clean it up for children who follow Doctor Who should they turn on Torchwood when Agyeman is on. Previously there were plans to air Torchwood on BBC America later this year and sell it on DVD in January. There was some great news this week from Mark Cuban as he’s going to pick up the show on HDNet starting September 17.

Conservative Pseudo-Science Strikes Again

The anti-science right has been at it yet again. It’s the same pattern of multiple right wing blogs grasping onto something trivial and claiming that they have proven they are right and every scientist working on climate change is wrong. This all stems from a blogger reviewing NASA data and apparently finding a glitch in the temperatures reported in the United States. A report at Daily Tech which has been widely quoted by the conservative blogs concludes:

The effect of the correction on global temperatures is minor (some 1-2% less warming than originally thought), but the effect on the U.S. global warming propaganda machine could be huge.

Then again — maybe not. I strongly suspect this story will receive little to no attention from the mainstream media.

The report deserves to receive little to no attention at this point, but I fear it will receive media attention considering the way the media loves to cover things as a controversy even where no real controversy exists. The conservative bloggers who are latching on to this make the assumption that all the work on climate change collapses with this minor change in data. As even the author of the report above finally concedes by the end, all this has a very minor effect on studies of global temperatures. The work on global warming is based upon world wide studies, especially the changes at the poles, not a narrow set of data.

The Island of Doubt also expresses doubt as to the meaning of this:

…the revised list, reportedly due to some kind of Y2K recalculation, will not affect global averages significantly and is more properly relegated to the footnotes of obscure journals. The revised calculations after all, may have changed the rankings of the top warmest years in the U.S., but only by a wee bit, +0.02 degrees C in the case of 1934. Even in Fahrenheit, that’s only 4/100th of a degree. To put it all in perspective, we’re already 0.7 degrees C above pre-industrial levels globally, with another full degree in the inevitably pipeline due to climate inertia. But even those who probably do understand the math are happy to make a mountain out of this molehill.

Of course they are happy to make a mountain out of this molehill as they believe reality is a matter of debate. The real problem here, as in all the talk of climate change at the conservative blogs, is that they have little understanding of the scientific method, or ignore it if they do. Climate change is ultimately a matter of science, not a conservative vs. liberal debate as they pretend. Matters of science are evaluated in peer reviewed journals by objective investigators, not debated in blogs by people who have already made up their mind.

One thing I find ironic about the ideological aspect of this debate is how little confidence conservatives have in human ingenuity, and the power of the free market which they worship but have so little understanding of. Conservative blogs typically claim that efforts to prevent global warming will require Draconian restrictions and shut down our economy. In contrast, many liberals believe that establishment of goals to reduce global warming will generate new technologies and new businesses to fulfill the need. As added benefits, we even get cleaner air and can move towards energy independence.

Giuliani Commits Major Gaffe Calling Himself Equal to 9/11 Recovery Workers

When a candidate commits a gaffe, especially this long before an election when only a small percentage are paying attention, it is often difficult to tell whether it will have a major impact or be forgotten. Political Radar report a major gaffe from Rudy Giuliani

Speaking to reporters in Cincinnati, Giuliani said: “I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. … I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.”

Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives Endowment Association, the union of NYPD detectives, told the Associated Press that the mayor’s record can’t compare to those who spent 12 months sifting through toxic debris for evidence and human remains.

This gaffe might be especially harmfull go Giuliani as he has nothing beyond his claims of leadership post 9/11 and being strong on terrorism. Even Giuliani’s leadership against terrorism has been questioned:

Just last month, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) released a 13 minute video on the internet urging its members to oppose Giuliani’s bid for the presidency, questioning his leadership both before and in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks. At the time of the video’s release, the Giuliani campaign denounced what they called a ‘clearly partisan’ video and cited the IAFF’s history of endorsing and supporting Democratic candidates

Giuliani has gotten away with using 9/11 as many do not realize how poor a job he did in handling terrorism in New York. At least a growing number are realizing that the Giuliani/Bush foreign policy strengthens al Qaeda and makes us less safe. Giuliani’s use of 9/11 for the basis of his campaign has been absurd from the start, but now he has taken it to a new level of absurdity which far more people will see through. If this is taken as an insult from Giuliani to the 9/11 workers, it could prove to be a critical mistake.

Richardson Fumbles and Recovers at HRC/LOGO Debate

The HRC/LOGO forum shows that progress has been made as Democratic candidates (but no Republicans) are willing to address the issues. The debate also made it clear that more progress is needed as most of the candidates still found legalization of gay marriage too hot to handle. If the debate affects any of the candidates it will be Richardson.

Bill Richardson has many fine qualities, but debating is not one of them. He put his foot in his mouth when asked if homosexuality was a matter of choice or biological. Richardson answered that it was a matter of choice, but at least later realized he made a mistake and tried to recover in a statement after the forum:

“I misunderstood the question. Let me be clear- I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice. But I’m not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law. That is what I believe, that is what I have spent my career fighting for. I ask that people look at my record and my actions and they will see I have been a true supporter of the LGBT community.”

In a subsequent response to AmericaBlog Richardson said, “This is something you are born with, and regardless of whether there is conflict about the science of it (homosexuality), I support full and equal rights. I fully support domestic partnerships.”

This largely comes down to Richardson possibly being misinformed about the science but still taking the same position as the other Democratic candidates. Being unclear on the science but having essentially the correct political positions is far preferable to the common Republican stance of promoting policies which are wrong and basing them on pseudo-science.

Insiders Rank Overrated and Underrated Candidates

Political Wire got an advanced look at The National Journal’s Political Insiders poll of each party’s most overrated and underrated candidates. The choices are not very surprising.

The view I’ve often expressed here of John Edwards is shared by the largest number of Democratic insiders at 42%. Bob Shrum summed him up pretty well as a “Clinton who hadn’t read the books.” Barack Obama does come in fairly close at 40%. Both suffer from limited experience, with Edwards having significantly less experience than Obama. Obama does remain a candidate I’m watching closely. I would prefer that he had more experience, but he also does show qualities that some more experienced candidates lack. In comparing Edwards to Obama, the major difference is that I don’t think Edwards would make a good President no matter how much experience he had, but Obama does show tremendous potential. While not my ideal choice, dissatisfaction with the choices offered places Obama among the only two candidates I am seriously considering at the moment.

I would have been shocked if the other candidate I’m considering, Bill Richardson, hadn’t led the list of underrated candidates. Of the original second tier, Richardson is also the one that is gradually attracting the most attention, especially among independents who plan to vote in Democratic caucuses and primaries where this is allowed. Richardson even comes in first among independents planning to vote in the Iowa Democratic caucus.

Biden and Dodd are second and third. I might have ranked Biden much higher until I read his view of special interest politics earlier in the week.

On the Republican side the results aren’t very surprising either. Fred Thompson, whose major qualification for office is that he has played a president on film, tops the list of overrated Republicans. McCain and Romney tie for a distant second place. I’d stick Giuliani up with them also. I’m also surprised that the party insiders–keeping in mind these are party insiders–didn’t place Ron Paul high on their overrated list.

The most underrated Republican was also a very obvious choice in Mike Huckabee. I disagree with him on a lot of issues, and lost a bit of confidence in him when he expressed his disbelief in evolution, but he still appears to be the most rational Republican running, such as when talking about school prayer. Besides, anyone who has been the subject of attack ads such as those from the Club For Growth is not your typical right wing politician. Mitt Romney comes in second, placing him on both the underrated and overrated lists.

The poll is interesting and largely predictable. My initial reaction was that this was of limited value as I wouldn’t really want the political insiders picking our nominees. However, if we base this on the underrated candidates, my bet is that we can, and most likely will, do far worse than a race between Bill Richardson and Mike Huckabee.