Quote of the Day: Jimmy Fallon On Mark Zuckerberg Complaining About NSA Surveillance

“Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apparently called President Obama directly to complain about NSA and how it spies on ordinary Americans. That’s right, the guy who runs Facebook got mad at the NSA for spying on people. Talk about the pot unfriending the kettle!” –Jimmy Fallon

“Zuckerberg criticized the NSA and called the government a threat to the Internet. Then he went back to running a website where you list everyone you’ve ever met, every place you’ve been, every place you’re going, what you had eat, your ex-girlfriends and your ex-boyfriends, which bands you like…” –Jimmy Fallon

SciFi Weekend: Arrow; Hannibal; Orphan Black; Doctor Who; Star Trek; Person of Interest; The Americans; Continuum; Fox vs. Kristen Bell; Mad Men; Lost; Creationists vs. Cosmos

Arrow Suicide Squad

I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed by this week’s episode of Arrow, not because it was a bad episode (it wasn’t) but my expectations had been raised so high by all the hype over the introduction of the Suicide Squad. I did like how they tied it to Dingle and his ex-wife, but beyond them there was little time for anyone else other than Deadshot and Amanda Waller. Of course Shrapnel didn’t last very long. (Are we certain he is really dead–we never saw the body.) They probably could have used more time to flesh out the story further, perhaps as a two-part show. Dingle was definitely able to carry the episode as lead and if limited to one episode it also might have been better to just give him the entire episode. Most of the scenes with Oliver and Felicity, other than the final scene, were pretty much filler anyways. I know it is unconventional to leave out two of the biggest stars, but it would have made a stronger episode.

There were two scenes with Oliver worth noting. I have no idea how Slade could have had video of Shadow from the island and suspect this was a case of the writers going for a more dramatic scene at the expense of reality (even within the parameters of this series). I did like the ending, tying into not only Dingle but Oliver, and having a potential new ally against Slade. While she was introduced to the DC world long after I stopped reading Batman comics, I understand that the cameo by Harley Quinn is a huge deal for many fans. Collider spoke with producer Marc Guggenheim about the series and potential appearances from characters from the Batman universe:

How much of the Batman universe can you plug into this show, especially now with Gotham out there?

GUGGENHEIM:  That’s part of the ongoing relationship and discussions that we have with DC.  Things have not really changed with Gotham.  It’s the same thing that it always is, which is that we have an idea, we go to DC, we talk about it, and we find out where the lines are and which characters are available or not available.  I want to manage expectations with respect to Harley Quinn.  She was always intended to be an Easter egg.  I don’t want people to go in with incorrect expectations and walk away from Episode 16 disappointed.  But there is an element to the Easter egg that was not spoiled by the promo, that I think people will find a lot of fun. 

The Arrow’s secret identity was also discussed:

Question: There are a lot of people who know Oliver’s secret now.  Is that number going to go down, before the end of this season, or are more people going to find out?
MARC GUGGENHEIM:  I would say that that number is going to go up, before the end of the year.  By the finale, more people will know than currently do.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

GUGGENHEIM:  We talk in the writers’ room a lot about, are there too many characters that know and does it diminish the secret identity?  Where we have come from is the philosophy that, when members of our cast of characters know, it draws them into Oliver’s world and it draws them into the show more.  So, we tend to get more story out of people knowing than people not knowing.  You could say that too many people know, but we always use The Dark Knight trilogy as our compass, and a lot of people knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman, particularly by the third movie, and it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of watching those stories unfold.  Obviously, there are different philosophies and different points of view.  For us, as writers, we always go towards whatever gives us more story, and more interesting story.  For now, at least, certain people knowing is more interesting than certain people not knowing. 

Quentin Lance used to be a detective.  How has he not figured out that Oliver is Arrow?

GUGGENHEIM:  Episode 19 pretty definitively answers that question, as far as Lance is concerned.  And the answer to that will surprise you.  It’s not something that you would expect.

I’m happy to hear they are addressing Lance. After a recent episode in which Lance saw Sara with Oliver and with the Arrow in a couple scenes I could not believe that he did not figure out that they were the same person.

More characters from The Flash will also be introduced in episode 19, The Man Under the Hood.

Hannibal Takiawase

Hannibal stressed a couple of themes this week which are pertinent to the series as a whole: death as an escape and unconventional psychiatric therapy. The first involved both the motives of the killer of the week (well played by Amanda Plummer) and a second storyline in which Hannibal was the villain not for committing a murder but for thwarting Bella’s attempt to die on her own terms. If the coin toss went the other way, would he have had Bella for dinner?

For a moment I thought that perhaps Will was going to win over a new ally but instead it is clear that Hannibal is going to have Beverly for dinner. If only she had taken Will’s claims more seriously, refrained from relating any suspicions to Hannibal, had passed on her suspicions to Jack, and had thought to have backup before falling into his trap.

Will might have lost one potential ally, but he is still not powerless despite being locked up, and now better able to play detective with the return of lost memories. As he does every week, Bryan Fuller discussed the episode with AV Club. Here is an excerpt about Will:

AVC: Will is getting his memories back, and you’re filling in some of the gaps in season one. Was that always the plan? Did you have thoughts of what had actually happened when you were writing last season?

BF: There was, once Will says, “The answers are in my head, and I’m going to find them,” I felt like we were obligated to tell that story and to keep peeling back the onion of his memory, or the pomegranate, as it were, peeling back membranes and finding these clusters of bloody seeds that he has to deal with. We did that with the intubation of the ear, and then we did that with the reveal of, on some level of consciousness, he was aware what was going on in Hannibal’s dining room when Gideon was there, and is able to access that it causes him to seek out Chilton, to see if he can help him answer some of the mysteries that are locked away in his mind. It felt like it was a way to keep Will active. He can’t actually go out to investigate things, as much as he can go in and investigate things, so we needed to have some device for him to continue his investigation. To be active while he’s incarcerated and going inside his mind felt like a really strong way to do that.

AVC: Did you struggle with finding ways for Will to be active?

BF: It was always part of the conversations when we were story-breaking. “Okay, Will’s not active enough. Will has to be driving this.” We are telling Will Graham’s story, so it was very important to seek out those ways to keep him active when he’s incarcerated. That was the big thing: We need to get outdoors and see him in his mind palace fishing to give us a sense of the power of his imagination and also the transportive power of imagination in general. I think we hear from survivors of terrible atrocities, and how they survive is their imagination. It’s such a wonderful gift, and there was a line that we cut from an episode where they talk about how imagination is the greatest virtual-reality machine known to man, and it’s between our ears. It’s that kind of, almost, masturbatory transportation where you can go someplace and make it as real as you need it to be in your mind, even though you’re locked in a cage.

Orphan Black insider video with Tatiana Maslany above. We already have a strong set of genre shows airing now with Arrow, Hannibal, Continuum, and The Americans. Orphan Black might be the best of them all.

Mark Gatiss has discussed the return of the Time Lords of Gallifrey to Doctor Who.

Blastr has the first hints about the third Star Trek movie since the J.J. Abrams reboot. I’m still waiting for a movie in which the original Spock recruits the Enterprise crew to fix the time line and save Vulcan.

The Americans had another great episode. Claudia is back, and they are trying to track down the killer from the first episode. I would assume that the couple who intervened in the final scene were involved. Last week Elizabeth used fear to get information from the poor janitor. This week she used other more womanly techniques for interrogation. Paige created problems again, this time by going to church and getting caught reading a Bible. Plus Nina might be in danger because of Oleg, and Martha might place Philip’s identity at risk. Arrow shows what a superhero show should be and The Americans sets a new bar for spy shows. This makes Agents of SHIELD look so weak in both genres.

Person of Interest Root2

I’ve also highly enjoyed the last couple of episodes of Person of Interest. The first was almost entirely flashback, filling in some major holes to date in the back story. It ended with Root in the present, leading into this week’s episode which was more centered around Amy Acker’s character. She can easily carry the show, just as Dingle could carry an episode of Arrow. I was happy to read in this interview that she will probably be in the remaining episodes this season.  It looks like she has her own team to rival Harold’s, with root more connected to the Machine.

In many ways Person of Interest is increasingly reminding me of Fringe. Both started by concentrating more on monster or case of the week episodes, but overtime the mythology of the show took over. The characters have become increasingly compelling as people beyond operatives. Root is by far my favorite to watch, and I enjoy seeing her developing relationship with Shaw (“I love it when you play doctor.”) At least the two get along better than Root gets along with Fusco, who constantly calls her “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I am trying hard to avoid any major spoilers on the season premiere of Continuum. Alec’s decision to use time travel has major repercussions, and is moving the show in a new direction. There is finally an answer to the central question of the show, as to whether the time line can be changed.

Now Fox (the network which says it might take a long time to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 because it took us 2000 years to find Noah’s Arc ) is attacking Kristen Bell for saying rich people should pay more because they can afford it. Incidentally, I received my copy of the script and digital download of the Veronica Mars movie last week after donating to the Kickstarter campaign, but have not had time to watch yet.

mad-men-season-6

Matt Weiner isn’t going to let much out about the upcoming season of Mad Men, but there was a little information at PaleyFest. Here’s what they said about Don Draper:

Don is even more aimless without his job.
Don Draper has had some dark moments, but he’s always had his job to fall back on and obsess over. “His marriage is in trouble, his relationship with his kids is tricky at best, and now work isn’t there,” said Hamm. “Don is trying to process his life and his place in his job, his career, his family, everything.” And he’s made some uncharacteristic mistakes of late, including the disastrous Hershey’s pitch. “That was a completely honest moment for him. He thought, I’m going to try this because it’s a step in the right direction,” said Hamm. “But it was a step in the exact opposite direction.” Don’t dismay, though. Hamm ended on a hopeful note: “There’s one principle to Don: He’s a survivor. He rises to the challenge.”

The Lost show runners discussed the finale at PaleyFest. No, the fan theory which I never believed that they were dead the whole time is not true.

Creationists are angry about Cosmos as Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t providing them with equal time to deny science. Last week’s episode did an excellent job showing how evolution is the foundation of modern biology. As there is tremendous evidence for evolution and zero for creationism, there is no reason to grant the creationists a moment of time (other than perhaps to further debunk their claims).

Medicare Benefits Under The Affordable Care Act

With all the scare stories being sent out in right wing emails, it is worth posting this press released emailed today from CMS regarding how Medicare patients have benefited from the Affordable Care Act.

On the 4th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act into law, new information released today by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows that millions of seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare continue to enjoy lower costs on prescription drugs and improved benefits in 2013 thanks to the health care law.

Since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, 7.9 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved $9.9 billion on prescription drugs, or an average of $1,265 per beneficiary. In 2013 alone, 4.3 million seniors and people with disabilities saved $3.9 billion, or an average of $911 per beneficiary. These figures are higher than in 2012, when 3.5 million beneficiaries saved $2.5 billion, for an average of $706 per beneficiary.

Use of preventive services has also expanded among people with Medicare.  In 2013, an estimated 37.2 million people with Medicare took advantage of at least one preventive service with no cost sharing, including an estimated 26.5 million people with traditional Medicare, and more than 4 million who took advantage of the Annual Wellness Visit.  This exceeds the comparable figure from 2012, when an estimated 34.1 million people with Medicare, including 26.1 million with traditional Medicare, received one or more preventive benefits with no out of pocket costs.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we saw a stronger Medicare program in 2013,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Seniors are saving billions of dollars on their needed medications and continuing to enjoy benefits that will lead to healthier lives and lower costs in the long run.”

Closing the prescription drug “donut hole”

The Affordable Care Act makes Medicare prescription drug coverage more affordable by gradually closing the gap in coverage where beneficiaries had to pay the full cost of their prescriptions out of pocket, before catastrophic coverage for prescriptions took effect. This gap is known as the donut hole.

Thanks to the health care law, in 2010, anyone with a Medicare prescription drug plan who reached the prescription drug donut hole got a $250 rebate. In 2011, beneficiaries in the donut hole began receiving discounts on covered brand-name drugs and savings on generic drugs.

People with Medicare Part D who fall into the donut hole this year will receive discounts and savings of about 53 percent on the cost of brand name drugs and about 28 percent on the cost of generic drugs. These savings and Medicare coverage will gradually increase until 2020, when the donut hole will be closed.

For state-by-state information on discounts in the donut hole, please visit: http://downloads.cms.gov/files/Donut-Hole-by-State-2013.pdf

For more information about Medicare prescription drug benefits, please visit:

http://www.medicare.gov/part-d/.

 Medicare Preventive Services

By making certain preventive services available with no cost-sharing, the Affordable Care Act is helping Americans take charge of their own health. By removing barriers to prevention, Americans and health care professionals can better prevent illness, detect problems early when treatment works best, and monitor health conditions.

For Medicare, the Affordable Care Act eliminated coinsurance and the Part B deductible for recommended preventive services, including many cancer screenings and other important benefits. For example, before the Affordable Care Act, a person with Medicare could pay as much as $160 in cost-sharing for a colorectal cancer screening. Today, this important screening and many others are covered at no cost to beneficiaries (with no deductible or co-pay). This will help many seniors to stay healthy.

For state-by-state information on utilization of preventive services at no cost sharing to beneficiaries in Medicare, please visit: http://downloads.cms.gov/files/Beneficiaries-Utilizing-Free-Preventive-Services-by-State-YTD2013.pdf

While these are the major benefits, there are additional potential benefits such as one I reported regarding Hospice patients yesterday.

 

An Experience With Obamacare

ACAcomic03

Maybe this should be filmed as an ad to counter all those dishonest ads with fake horror stories being put out by the right wing. Kaiser Health News has a comic from a freelancer on her experiences in buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act following her experiences in buying health insurance on the individual market in the past. The above portion gives an example of past problems, such as recission when insurance companies would find ways to drop people when they became sick to avoid paying claims. Check out the full comic. (Spoiler: She winds up with better insurance and saves money).

 

Three Types Of Obamacare Winners You Might Not Have Thought Of

Despite all the fake horror stories being spread by conservatives, the vast majority of people in this country are benefiting significantly under the Affordable Care Act. Some benefit due to being able to obtain health insurance when they were not able to in the past due to pre-existing medical conditions and/or cost. Many also benefit due to receiving heath care coverage which cannot be cancelled, cannot have rates increased due to medical problems, and which do not have limitations in coverage which previous polices had. There are three winners which you might not have thought of before–Medicare patients with terminal illnesses, people who bought insurance without subsidies but still came out ahead, and Republicans who benefit from Obamacare.

In contrast to false claims of Medicare cuts, the Affordable Care Act increases benefits for Medicare beneficiaries such as phasing out the donut hole on prescription drugs and covering preventative services which were not previously covered. There are a number of additional aspects of the Affordable Care Act which have not received much attention. One is a demonstration project to consider allowing Hospice patients to receive both curative and palliative care.

Hospice offers extremely valuable services for dying patients, but currently Medicare does not cover Hospice services if a patient continues to receive treatments aimed at attempting cure of a disease. Quite often I have had patients who are terminally ill who could benefit from Hospice services to increase comfort but do not qualify because they want to continue medical treatment. Under this demonstration project, patients will have the option, for example, to both receive chemotherapy and to receive Hospice services aimed at enabling them to die more comfortably if the treatment is not a success.

This is just one of many areas where the Affordable Care Act provides more choice than patients had previously, and I hope that Medicare does make this change for all Medicare patients.

Andrew Sprung discussed another group of winners who are “satisfied unsubsidized.” We have surpassed five million people receiving insurance on the exchanges and it now appears likely that the number will surpass six million due to the surge in people signing up this month. An estimated six million additional are signing up directly through insurance companies, which can be done if not applying for subsidies. Sprung began:

About half of the 12 million Americans buying health insurance on the individual market are subsidy-ineligible, according to the Urban Institute. Are they all fuming and lining up to appear in anti-Obamacare commercials?

Chances are not. As veterans of the individual market, many are accustomed to its shocks and uncertainties. About a quarter of them received cancellation notices last fall, and others face substantial premium hikes. Some will be forced to pay more than in the past, in some cases in part because they are covered for services they don’t want, like childbirth or mental healthcare. But many are finding their options much better and their status less precarious than in the pre-ACA market.

I spoke recently to several people whose family income disqualifies them for subsidies and who bought insurance on the individual market for 2014. All had family members with preexisting conditions, which means they benefited from the ACA’s prohibition on basing price or eligibility on medical history. All had been paying above-market rates or faced limited choices because of a family member’s medical history…

This special category is huge, though. The percentage of Americans with preexisting conditions is anywhere from 19 to 50 percent, according to an HHS report overviewing various studies. And that’s just individuals—in households with more than one person, the chances that someone will have a medical condition that jacked up the price of insurance in the pre-ACA world multiplies.

Sprung gave some specific examples who are far more representative of the changes under the Affordable Care Act than those shown on television by conservative groups with fake horror stories. The satisfied unsubsidized also includes an additional group, people such as myself who did not have to pay higher rates in the past due to medical problems and are paying more now, but still benefit because of now having a policy which cannot be cancelled due to changes in medical condition. Sprung acknowledged us in concluding:

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that those untroubled by preexisting conditions or by the need to find insurance in the individual market can lose those advantages at any moment—as well as their financial status. Uncertainty is the universal preexisting condition—and thanks to the ACA, such changes should no longer threaten financial ruin or lack of access to medical care.

When listening to the fake horror stories being spread by Republicans, keep in mind that before the Affordable Care Act medical expenses were a major cause of bankruptcies in this country, and three fourths who declared bankruptcy did have medical coverage at the time they became sick or injured.

Last month I looked at Republicans who have benefited from Obamacare and learned to love it. Scott Brown learned about this last Saturday:

Brown found that out on Saturday, when he stopped by the home of Herb Richardson, a Republican state representative. Sitting in Richardson’s home, Brown called Obamacare a “monstrosity” that members of Congress didn’t even bother to read before they passed. At that point, according to the Coos County Democrat, Richardson chimed in to explain that the law had been a “financial lifesaver” for him and his wife. From the the piece (page 14):

Richardson was injured on the job and was forced to live on his workers’ comp payments for an extended period of time, which ultimately cost the couple their house on Williams Street. The couple had to pay $1,100 a month if they wanted to maintain their health insurance coverage under the federal COBRA law.

Richardson said he only received some $2,000 a month in workers’ comp. payments, however, leaving little for them to live on.

“Thank God for Obamacare!” his wife exclaimed.

Now, thanks to the subsidy for which they qualify, the Richardsons only pay $136 a month for health insurance that covers them both.

With so many people benefiting from Obamacare, many Democrats are making a huge mistake by failing to run for reelection based upon this. As I wrote earlier in the week, Democrats need to go on the offensive on health care reform. Explaining these benefits is the only way to counter negative ads and negative polling results based upon misinformation.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

No, Your Insurance Premiums Are Not Going To Skyrocket

Journalists report what they hear but often lack the background knowledge to really evaluate the information. This is especially true in health care, where journalists typically do not understand the complexity of the field. This creates great opportunities for those who want to play the ref, such as insurance companies talking about the Affordable Care Act. This is seen in a story at The Hill today claiming Obamacare premiums will skyrocket.

We have seen many other predictions of terrible things happening and they universally have failed to occur. Even the IT problems with the opening of the exchanges were quickly fixed. This falls into the same category, but of course conservative bloggers who prefer articles which reinforce their biases over facts have spent the day repeating it. When conservatives gloat over such claims, keep in mind that they are partially responsible for any future rate increases by putting out a misinformation campaign designed to dissuade people from signing up–including campaigns outright saying not to sign up.

It is always best to avoid panic with articles such as this. When predictions are made it would be best to simply wait until later in the year to see what happens, but obviously that doesn’t fit in with life in the blogosphere. At least wait a few hours as more information comes in. After the story began to spread, Ed Kilgore responded with a good take on this:

I’m sure many of you saw a certain headline from The Hill today: “O-Care premiums to skyrocket.” At first I thought the source was The Drudge Report.

If you actually read the accompanying article by Elise Vieback, the rather alarming assertion is mostly a collection of blind quotes from “health industry officials.” Yes, one former Cigna executive went on the record to say his “gut” tells him premiums could go up, which is of course very convincing. Otherwise the closest Vieback gets to attribution is an “insurance official who hails from a populous swing state.”

In an updated version of the article, Vieback does quote by name two experts—who deny the whole premise of her story.

And the “premiums to skyrocket” claim directly contradicts a variety of on-the-record assessments by health insurance executives—e.g., Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Wellpoint president Joe Swedish, and Cigna CEO David Cordani—that the Obamacare premium structure is working out relatively well. And the most reliable independent study, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, concluded that the much-feared “death spiral” of premiums that Vieback seems to be predicting as a reality for much of the country is very unlikely to occur.

Particularly in its revised form, Vieback’s piece has a number of “to be sure” qualifiers that undermine the headline. But it’s the headline that will get big coverage today—to be sure—maybe on Drudge Report itself. And it’s pretty clear which political constituency is driving the “story.”

I further discussed the reasons why the conservative death spiral scenario is not realistic last month, including quoting from the Kaiser report mentioned by Kilgore.

We also have to keep in mind the fact that double digit increases annually were common in the past in the individual market so there might be increases which are not out of line with past events. I once even had to change policies because of a tremendous jump in rates. I was able to find alternative coverage, but that is not true of everyone who lost their coverage in the days before the Affordable Care Act.

The insurance companies also do have a legitimate concern here, even if they are playing the refs with scare stories. They have to make predictions a year ahead of time as to what their costs will be to set premium rates. It was understandable that Obama gave into political pressures and made changes in the Affordable Care Act, but this also does make it harder for insurance companies to predict future costs. Allowing people to keep their old junk policies longer does adversely affect their calculations. The changes made will probably result in higher rates for legitimate reasons–but most likely much, much smaller than this article makes it sound.

Update: Even though it is posted at The Hill, it looks like this article might be considered just another piece of unsubstantiated garbage from the right wing noise machine. Elise Viebeck, writer of the article, did an internship at the right wing National Review.

Nate Silver Opens FiveThirtyEight With Questions Raised About Data Journalism

Nate Silver’s new site, FiveThirtyEight.com, opened this week and I must say I have been underwhelmed. Certainly check it out yourself and come to your own conclusion, but so far I hardly see the posts there as adding anything of value to online sources than we had in the past. I think this is largely because Nate Silver’s numbers driven type of analysis applies far better to sports coverage and polling than it does to many of the other topics which the new site attempts to cover.

Certainly other areas also involve analysis driven by numbers. If one is to run a web site based upon claims of superior analysis of the numbers, it is also important that the numbers be well established as correct. Think Progress has raised questions about FiveThirtyEight’s science writer on climate change. This also shows that it is important to read analysis which does more than just present numbers. As I learned back in college statistics, statistics is the science which shows that the average human has one testicle and one breast.

I don’t intend to downplay the value of Nate Silver’s polling analysis, but it was hardly unique in predicting the elections. Yes, he did far better than the many Republicans who predicted Romney victories based upon opinions rather than fact, but he was not the only one. Besides watching Nate Silver’s site, I also watched a couple sites which took an aggregate of polling results to show who was leading. This provided essentially the same results. It was also easy to predict based upon past results and limited knowledge of the states which states were tending in a different direction.

Nate Silver described his vision for his site here. I certainly appreciate the use of data to substantiate opinions, but so far the posts there have not really provided terribly meaningful data in other areas. Perhaps it will improve over time, but he would have been smarter to have a really major article telling us something we don’t know based upon the numbers to initiate the new site. First impressions are important.

Needless to say, his criticism of opinion articles hasn’t been accepted very well by some opinion writers. Paul Krugman hardly ignores facts and figures but has somehow been cast as the opposing model to Nate Silver’s. Krugman responded to Silver’s criticism of opinion writers:

Nate’s manifesto proclaims his intention to be a fox, who knows many things, rather than a hedgehog, who knows just one big thing; i.e., a pundit who repeats the same assertions in every column. I’m fine with that.

But you can’t be an effective fox just by letting the data speak for itself — because it never does. You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)

Leon Wieseltier discussed the importance of opinion writers, concluding:

Since an open society stands or falls on the quality of its citizens’ opinions, the refinement of their opinions, and more generally of the process of opinion-formation, is a primary activity of its intellectuals and its journalists. In such an enterprise, the insistence upon a solid evidentiary foundation for judgments—the combating of ignorance, which is another spectacular influence of the new technology—is obviously important. Just as obviously, this evidentiary foundation may include quantitative measurements; but only if such measurements are appropriate to the particular subject about which a particular judgment is being made. The assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects and all judgments—this auctoritas ex numero—is not at all obvious. Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted. Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

An opinion with a justification may be described as a belief. The justification that transforms an opinion into a belief may in some instances be empirical, but in many instances, in the morally and philosophically significant instances, it will not be empirical, it will be rational, achieved in the establishment of the truth of concepts or ideas by the methods of argument and the interpretation of experience. A certain kind of journalistic commentary, when it is done rightly, is a popular version of the same project, an application of thoughtfully (and sometimes wittily) held principles to public affairs, and is therefore an essential service to a free society. The intellectual predispositions that Silver ridicules as “priors” are nothing more than beliefs. What is so sinister about beliefs? He should be a little more wary of scorning them, even in degraded form: without beliefs we are nothing but data, himself included, and we deserve to be considered not only from the standpoint of our manipulability. I am sorry that he finds George Will and Paul Krugman repetitious, but should they revise their beliefs so as not to bore him? Repetition is one of the essential instruments of persuasion, and persuasion is one of the essential activities of a democracy. I do not expect Silver to relinquish his positivism—a prior if ever there was one—because I find it tedious.

Silver proclaimed in the interview that “we’re not trying to do advocacy here. We’re trying to just do analysis. We’re not trying to sway public opinion on anything except trying to make them more numerate.” His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks? And why would one boast of having no interest in the great disputations about injustice and inequality? Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports. Like Ezra Klein, whom he admires, Nate Silver had made a success out of an escape into diffidence. What is it about conviction that frightens these people?

I have many recent posts on health care reform. Yes, many parts of the issue can be quantified. I could concentrate on the number of people who were without coverage because of preexisting conditions and the number who lost coverage due to being dropped when ill. Numbers are also important when looking at Republican horror stories and the truth about how much money people are really saving under the Affordable Care Act. These are important parts of the story, but not the full story. We also must consider explanations as to how the health care system works and opinions as to how it should. The same is true in many other areas. Facts and numbers are important, but so are analysis, opinions and values.

Update:

This is an argument where neither side is entirely right or wrong. There is even a counter argument to Wieseltier’s assertion that, “There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men.” Steve M wrote:

But there is very much a “numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men” — or at least the opponents of gay marriage strongly suggest that there is. Those opponents argue that gay marriage harms society — specifically, they say that children suffer harm from not having two opposite-sex parents. How do we know this is nonsense? We can look at the lives of children raised by gay couples and compare their well-being to that of children raised by married heterosexuals. If gay marriage were harming the children of gay couples, we’d know it, but it isn’t. And it’s good that we have studies showing a lack of harm, because if we were high-mided and Wieseltierian and chose to remain above the tawdry collection of data on this subject, the anti-gay right would generate all sorts of anti-gay-marriage data and drive the debate with it. (Perhaps Wieseltier needs to be reminded of the preposterous statistics about gay people’s health that have been circulating online and elsewhere for several decades — “the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual” and all that.)

While I agree with Steve regarding the numbers involved, the fact remains that any discussion of gay marriage does also involve values–in this case the values of individual choice and separation of church and state in opposition of conservative values on this issue.

The debate between Krugman and Silver is one where neither side is entirely right or wrong and the differences between the sides are exaggerated when this turns into a blog debate. I don’t think that either Paul Krugman objects to presenting the numbers or that Nate Silver really thinks that everything comes down to the numbers.

Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers On The Crimean Vote

“New reports show that the Crimean vote to join Russia on Sunday did not include an option for ‘no.’ There were only two boxes on the ballot, one for ‘yes,’ and one for ‘murder my family.'” –Seth Meyers

Lying About Obamacare Not Working Out That Well For Republicans

Republicans, lacking any real policies they can campaign on,  have been relying on ads based upon lies about the Affordable Care Act. One ad which has received a lot of attention in the Michigan Senate race centered around a cancer patient who claimed her health insurance was unaffordable under Obamacare.  Several fact-checkers found that her new policy through the Affordable Care Act was actually saving her at least $1200 per year. The Koch brothers have been funding a number of similarly dishonest ads through Americans for Prosperity. They may have been wasting their money. A new poll has Democrat Gary Peters with a narrow lead over Republican Terri Lynn Land despite a barrage of dishonest ads from Americans for Prosperity.

Talking Points Memo ran a story earlier today claiming that Americans for Prosperity is giving up on these ads but later in the day a spokesman for AFP denied a shift in strategy:

“We are currently on-air with many different types of ads, including personal testimony of Obamacare impact,” AFP spokesman Levi Russell told TPM. “This is the same strategy we’ve been using for 6 months. This does not represent a shift in strategy.”

I’m not surprised. Take away the lies, and the right wing has no argument left. The old system was such as disaster, harming both millions of people and causing harm to the economy. The Republicans have no meaningful alternative. Claims made by the right wing are repeatedly being shown to be false, as with the ads from Americans for Prosperity.

The Affordable Care Act is turning into a major success, providing millions with health insurance coverage and ending the ability of insurance companies to abuse the system by finding ways to sell policies and then avoid paying out. Five million Americans have purchased health coverage through the exchanges, and this number will continue to increase. Millions more are purchasing higher quality coverage directly from insurance companies, benefiting from the expansion of Medicaid, or are now able to be covered on their parents’ insurance until age 26. No longer are people denied coverage, or have their coverage taken away, due to becoming sick or losing their jobs. In addition,  Obamacare frees people from the “insurance trap” which forced people who otherwise do not need to work to continue working for insurance coverage, along with other overall benefits to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, showed that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

SciFi Weekend: Hannibal; The Fall; Crisis; Orphan Black; Continuum; History of Science Fiction; HIMYM; Gotham; Agent Carter; SHIELD; The Americans; Under The Skin; Under The Dome

Hannibal-Season-2-Episode3

Hannibal has now become a courtroom drama, with Will Graham on trial for the murders committed by Hannibal. We appear to have another murderer out there, but without Will investigating we never get into the new murderer’s head and do not even know their identity. Is Hannibal also committing these murders in an attempt to free Will and regain him as a (manipulated) friend? Hannibal was forced to admit that there were some differences in how the murderer was operating. Hannibal would know better, unless this was part of a bigger plan.

Another favorite scene in the trial was the return of Freddie. She first seemed to bury Will by saying that Abigail had confided in her that she was afraid Will  might kill and cannibalize her. The defense then asked Freddie how many times she was accused of libel (six) and how many times she settled (six), quickly discrediting her testimony.

Assignment X has an interview with Mads Mikkelsen:

AX: Did you watch any of the earlier incarnations of Hannibal?

MADS MIKKELSEN: I think we all watched that, growing up, right? We were certain from the beginning that we could not detach ourselves from the character. Obviously, he’s a man who loves anything beautiful – beautiful music, beautiful people, beautiful wine – so we had to address that, but we had to detach it from what Anthony did. Obviously, it would be creative suicide to go down his path. He was so wonderful, and if you try to copy something like that – but I think any actor would make it his own, regardless of if it’s me or somebody else, but it was a conscious choice that detached us.

AX: Can you say what you’re bringing to Hannibal?

MIKKELSEN: A lot of it is already in Bryan’s scripts. He’s already given life to the character to a certain degree, and then it’s up to me to step into those shoes. As I said before, any actor would color it somehow, and I’m coloring it – I’m trying, to a degree, to make him human. What he does is absolutely not human, but his emotions are true and honest.

AX: You’ve compared Hannibal to Lucifer. Is he becoming more Luciferian or less Luciferian as you go along?

MIKKELSEN: He is Lucifer. He is the fallen angel. The thing about him is that he’s honest – he’s honest with his emotions regarding Will. He’s having a hard time here trying to regain his friendship. That’s uphill, of course. But that’s his main target in this season.

AX: Do you think Hannibal qualifies as a psychopath by regular psychiatrist standards, or is he something else?

MIKKELSEN: I don’t think he is a psychopath. I mean, reading about psychopaths, they normally have a traumatized childhood or something they’re struggling with. He doesn’t have that. He’s as happy as you can get. He’s a happy man. I have rarely given life to a character that is as happy as him, I must say.

AX: What would you say Hannibal’s relationship is like with his erstwhile psychiatrist Dr. Bedelia du Maurier, played by Gillian Anderson?

MIKKELSEN: That’s obviously a very unique and kinky relationship that they have, and we will address it a little more in this season. I think she has been a very important partner for him, in a sense that we will see a different side of Hannibal, and he will be quite emotional with her to a degree. Why he’s doing that, we don’t know. And I think that’s just his little space of freedom where he can be what he is.

Gillian Anderson is gone from the series for now, busy with two other series. She has begun filming the second season of The Fall for BBC2, a series well worth watching (and available in the United States on Netflix). Another series, Crisis, begins on NBC tonight with some  initial reviews being very favorable. Entertainment Weekly has more on the show.

Gillian Anderson had a great response to a question posed on Reddit:

Question: My question is assuming your character is made into a gourmet meal by Hannibal what type of food would you want to be made into?

Gillian Anderson: Something so rich that he’d choke on it and die.

EW Orphan Black

Orphan Black has put BBC America on the map (and cover of Entertainment Weekly) with one of the top genre shows of all time.Tatiana Maslany spoke about one of her clones being gay:

Even while Orphan Black received praise for the diversity of its characters, there was some debate online about the decision to have Cosima be gay, because If she has the same genetic code as her clone sisters, does that mean the show is implying that she chose to be gay as opposed to being born that way (since other clones like Sarah and Alison appear to be heterosexual)? Absolutely not, says the woman who plays her. “By no means are we saying that Cosima chooses to be gay,” says Maslany. “It’s by no means that. It’s just that there are so many biological factors into the mother’s womb, into the conditions of the womb. So much of the research I was doing about clones was about identical twins, right? Identical twins would actually be closer in expression than clones because clones are birthed from different wombs. And there’s so much information that gets fed through the mother. I think we’re not saying anything about that in terms of choice and biology or whatever. We’re saying more that everyone could be anything.”

I think we have to give the show some leeway being fiction and not try to use it as actually revealing anything about the genetics of sexual preference. More from the interviews at Screen Rant.

Spoiler TV has information (and video) on a new clone to be introduced in the second season:

A brand new season of Orphan Black means a brand new clone. And we have all the intel on said clone right here! Meet Jennifer Fitzsimmons, a 28-year old teacher and swim coach. And you are about to meet Jennifer the same way Cosima does, through a series of video diaries that Cosima discovers while researching her own respiratory illness.

Amazon has obtained exclusive streaming rights to Orphan Black, along with Hannibal, and the first season is available if you missed it.

Besides their science fiction drama, BBC America will also be airing a show on The Real History of Science Fiction beginning April 19:

From Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and from Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations and traces the developments of Robots, Space, Invasion and Time. Narrated by Mark Gatiss, Doctor Who writer, actor, and co-creator of the BBC’s Sherlock, the series determines why science fiction is not merely a genre… for its audience it’s a portal to a multi-verse – one that is all too easy to get lost in.

Among those taking part are: William Shatner (Star Trek), Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek), Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Chris Carter (The X-Files), Ronald D Moore (Battlestar Galactica), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Schlock), David Tennant (Doctor Who), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), John Carpenter (Dark Star, The Thing), Karen Gillan (Doctor Who), Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Stardust), Kim Stanley Robinson (Mars Trilogy), Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise), Ursula K Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness), Syd Mead (Blade Runner), Kenny Baker (Star Wars), Anthony Daniels (Star Wars), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Peter Weller (Robocop), Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica), and many more.

The four part series will be divided into episodes on Robots, Space, Invasion, and Time.

Continuum - Episode 3.01 - Minute by Minute - Promotional Photos (5)_FULL

Continuum returns tonight on Showcase, but American audiences who resist the temptation to download the episode will have to wait until April 4. I certainly intend to get a hold of the earlier (and uncut) episodes after aired on Showcase. I will warn of any spoilers before the American showing. Some Spoilers have already been released prior to the first episode of the season, but presumably nothing which truly spoils the episode. Those who want to know nothing might want to skip the rest of this section which discusses what I have already heard.

The first episode, Minute By Minute reportedly reveals who the Freelancers really are, and someone new  joins up with them and gets the tattoos. Kira teams up with Garza, which comes as little surprise considering the changing alliances we have seen. As suggested in the second season finale, Alec goes back in time to try to save Emily, and reportedly there is a lot of timey wimey stuff with potential end of the world consequences. With time travel involved, other dead characters do return. The first ten minutes have already been released in this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbdOVrqHuCU

The Marvel vs. DC feud will heat up next year, this time in the movie theaters. Both Captain America 2 and the next Superman vs Batman movie will be released the weekend of May 6, 2016.

CBS has renewed The Big Bang Theory for three more seasons. Bazinga!

Cristin Milioti has called the theories that her character dies on How I Met Your Mother “some crazy conspiracy theories, which actually just makes me really love the fans more,” but never actually denied the rumors.  The show runners also dodged the question at PaleyFest. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is intentional misdirection, but if there is some other surprise at the end. The cast will also be appearing on Inside The Actors Studio later this month prior to the series finale on March 31.

Gotham

Fox has released more information on their upcoming series, Gotham:

Everyone knows the name Commissioner Gordon. He is one of the crime world’s greatest foes, a man whose reputation is synonymous with law and order. But what is known of Gordon’s story and his rise from rookie detective to Police Commissioner? What did it take to navigate the multiple layers of corruption that secretly ruled Gotham City, the spawning ground of the world’s most iconic villains? And what circumstances created them – the larger-than-life personas who would become Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face and The Joker?

“Gotham” is an origin story of the great DC Comics super villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (“The Mentalist,” “Rome”), “Gotham” follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time.

Growing up in Gotham City’s surrounding suburbs, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, “Southland,” “The O.C.”) romanticized the city as a glamorous and exciting metropolis where his late father once served as a successful district attorney. Now, two weeks into his new job as a Gotham City detective and engaged to his beloved fiancée, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards, Open Grave, “Breaking In”), Gordon is living his dream – even as he hopes to restore the city back to the pure version he remembers it was as a kid.

Brave, honest and ready to prove himself, the newly-minted detective is partnered with the brash, but shrewd police legend Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, “Sons of Anarchy,” “Terriers,” “Vikings,” “Copper”), as the two stumble upon the city’s highest-profile case ever: the murder of local billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne. At the scene of the crime, Gordon meets the sole survivor: the Waynes’ hauntingly intense 12-year-old son, Bruce (David Mazouz, “Touch”), toward whom the young detective feels an inexplicable kinship. Moved by the boy’s profound loss, Gordon vows to catch the killer.

As he navigates the often-underhanded politics of Gotham’s criminal justice system, Gordon will confront imposing gang boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith, The Matrix films, “HawthoRNe,” Collateral), and many of the characters who will become some of fiction’s most renowned, enduring villains, including a teenaged Selina Kyle/the future Catwoman (acting newcomer Camren Bicondova) and Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor, “The Walking Dead,” Another Earth).

Although the crime drama will follow Gordon’s turbulent and singular rise through the Gotham City police department, led by Police Captain Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara, “Burn Notice”), it also will focus on the unlikely friendship Gordon forms with the young heir to the Wayne fortune, who is being raised by his unflappable butler, Alfred (Sean Pertwee, “Camelot,” “Elementary”). It is a friendship that will last them all of their lives, playing a crucial role in helping the young boy eventually become the crusader he’s destined to be.

captain-america Agent Carater
Collider has spoken with Captain America screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeel  about how they envision the planned Agent Carter series. From this description, I’m more hopeful about this show than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Here are the key points reported:

  • ABC has the script for the pilot but nothing is greenlit yet.
  • Markus and McFeely have recently spoken to Hayley Atwell and she is very interested in doing the show.
  • Howard Stark would be a recurring character, not a series regular.  This is assuming Dominic Cooper would be willing to continue to play the role.  I’ve spoken to him about this and he seemed very interested.  But this was a few months ago and things change.
  • The show would start in 1946, sort of in the middle of the timeline of the One Shot.  McFeely said, “We can’t get her to the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. that fast.  We wanna stay in that world longer where people are disrespecting her and she’s proving herself and going on missions and things like that.”
  • Unlike most network shows that are 22 or 23-episode seasons, Markus and McFeely think Agent Carter should be a limited series with a maximum of 13 episodes per season.  McFeely said, “[13 episodes] is how this is envisioned, maybe even less… That’s my hope, is that it would be something like [Under the Dome].  Our case would be that it would be a limited series and you would wrap up that one bad guy and that one case, and then if you like it we’ll do it again next year and it’s 1947.”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did have one of its better episodes of the season with the Thor crossover, guest staring Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif. While both a big event for the show and entertaining, the storyline still showed the weakness of the show. If they knew that Lorelei had the ability to control men, why would they have not one but two of their male agents wind up in a position where she could so easily take them over. Plus that plane of theirs has to be the least secure government facility in existence. Last week’s episode did also advance the storyline of Coulson’s return from the dead and this continuing storyline is a plus for the show.

THE AMERICANS -- The Walk In -- Episode 3 (Airs Wednesday, March 12, 10:00 PM e/p) -- Pictured: (L-R) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings -- CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

While entertaining, S.H.I.E.L.D looks like a bunch of armatures compared to the KGB in 1982. The Americans had another solid episode. Elizabeth showed she can be far more threatening than any S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as she terrified a janitor into getting her some information. Luckily for him, he stumbled upon Elizabeth’s weak spot when he showed her pictures of his children. It saved his life, but I doubt he will ever talk. Paige went do track down “Aunt Helen,” who Elizabeth was supposedly with while recovering from her gunshot wound. While the KGB was ready for this with a fake Aunt Helen complete with a picture of Elizabeth and Paige on the wall, I wouldn’t put it past Paige to ultimately bring down their entire spy operation. The episode also had a satisfying answer to my question last week as to why Nina told Stan about the walk-in by Bruce Dameran. Building up Stan by allowing him to kill Dameran is expected to be of more value to the KGB than any information they might have obtained from Dameran.

The episode also showed why the series works despite having KGB agents as the protagonists. Much of the episode dealt with family matters, including a letter from Leanne to Jared written years earlier in the event that she and Emmett were killed, so it didn’t matter that it was dealing with Russians. The subplot with Stan and Dameran, while a victory for the KGB, also involved Stan preventing an assassination, something which American viewers could root for. The scenes with Elizabeth and the poor janitor were so dramatic that it was easy to ignore the fact that they also involved American secrets falling into KGB hands.

Scarlett Johansson

The Guardian has an interview with Scarlett Johansson about her role in Under the Skin. In this portion she discussed why she wanted to take the role:

It’s one reason, presumably, that she took the part, though I’m curious to know the details. There’s only about three lines of dialogue in the entire film, so it can hardly have been the standout script. The main point of her character is that she doesn’t actually have a character. She’s an alien. She doesn’t do emotion. And it was filmed in Scotland. In winter. And most of the film consists of her standing around in wet boots and a too-thin coat. Or stripping off her clothes in a derelict squat and luring men into a vat of black ectoplasm. (At one point, she appears naked. Johansson fans, of which there are many, most especially the male variety, have been lighting up message boards for months with discussion of this particular fact.)

So why, of all the scripts she must get sent, did she decide to do this one? “I heard Jonathan was making a film and originally it was a very different story. But I met him, and it was very clear that he was struggling to figure out what he was doing with it, and what had attracted him to it. It wasn’t his passion project but there was something in the idea of having a character that was an alien that could give him the freedom to be completely observant without any judgment. I think we were both interested in that. I thought it would be incredibly challenging to play a character that’s free of judgment, that has no relationship to any emotion I could relate to.

“And for me, at this point, I think it much more interesting for me to look at something and know that I can play it, but not know how, rather than to look at something and go, ‘Ah, I can do that.’ And then just do it.”

The story also touched on other roles, including genre movies such as Captain America and Her.

The above trailer has been released for the second season of Under the Dome. The first episode will be written by Stephen King–hopefully he can get the show back on track. Executive producer Brian K. Vaughan says “The second season is going to take us to places where the book never got to go . Stephen King gave us some ideas we never imagined.” Two new characters will be introduced, Junior’s uncle who had been hiding out and a young school teacher. Two characters from the first season will be killed in an apparent law of conservation of characters. Early opinion from fans is that killing off just two characters is not enough. Maybe they could do this every week.

john_cho

John Cho of the two Star Trek remakes and Sleepy Hollow has been cast as the male lead in Selfie, the upcoming sit-com staring Karen Gillan of Doctor Who.

Selfie, a modern take on My Fair Lady and inspired by the musical, centers on a self-obsessed 20-something woman named Eliza Dooley (Gillan) who is more concerned with “likes” than being liked. After suffering a public and humiliating breakup, she becomes the subject of a viral video and suddenly has more social media “followers” than she ever imagined — but for all the wrong reasons. She then enlists the help of a marketing expert at her company to help repair her tarnished image.

Cho will play self-assured, successful marketing expert Henry, who is a different breed from today’s social media-addicted society. As a challenge, he decides to “remarket” his coworker Eliza. He joins an ensemble that already includes Allyn Rachel, Tim Peper, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and David Harewood. Casting for the regular roles is now complete.