Syfy Trying Science Fiction this Year

After years of trying everything but science fiction, from nerd reality shows, to Wrestling, it looks like the Syfy channel is coming home.

We’ve missed you.

ascensionWe started to see a few science fiction toes dip in the water with last December’s miniseries event, Ascension,   The 6 hour show, played over three nights, is the story of a secret nuclear powered generational starship, launched in 1963, on its way to Alpha Centauri.  The story is set in the present day as the ship reaches the half way point; there are factions on the ship that want to turn the ship around to head to earth.  Meanwhile on Earth the son of the founder of the Ascension program is doing his best to maintain the earth end of the program and keep it a secret.  There is a very big spoiler involved in all of this which I found absolutely delicious, and definitely defies your conceptions of what this show really is, however it’s nice to see an adult drama in a science fiction setting.  We’ve not really had a space opera like that since Battlestar Galactica.  In fact, that’s probably how the show was pitched; Mad Men meets Battlestar Galactica.  There is definitely a cultural stuck in amber effect since the crew left earth in the early 1960’s, without the benefit of women’s lib or the civil rights movement.  However the ship culture has evolved in interesting ways, and featured some political maneuvering that tops House of Cards in plausible political chess play.  Unfortunately this show wasn’t picked up, but even so, I recommend watching the miniseries when it’s available on DVD or for In Demand and streaming.

And January was the season two premiere of Helix.  This is another show that isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  BeforeHelix season one, just based on watching the promos and trailers I would have guessed Zombies meet Andromeda Strain.  However after watching the entirety of Season one, I can’t come up with a simple description of the premise, so I really don’t know how it was pitched to the networks.  Maybe they actually did pitch it as Zombies meet Andromeda Strain and then decided to do their own thing. In any case, it worked, and season two seemed to start off as almost an entirely new show, with the same characters but facing some entirely new challenges.  I guess I’m excited about this show because I can’t guess what they’re doing.  It’s nice to be surprised with good writing without resorting to the multitude of common TV tropes.

The TV adaptation of 12 Monkeys also premiered in January.  This time travel episodic TV series is based on the movie, but diverges quite a bit in order to make episodic TV work.  The basic plot is that in the plague decimated year of 2043, a small group of scientists are trying to send someone back in time to stop the virus from killing off 7 billion people in the first place.  12 MonkeysThe show takes it’s time travel seriously and takes its characters seriously.  We don’t know much about the villains yet, but the heroes are flawed and have done some terrible things to save the world, and sometimes, their motives reveal much more personal motives than world saving.  It’s a great show and apparently enough people agree with me so that it’s already been renewed for another season.

 

And there seems to be even more, hard SF in store this year for Syfy.  2015 (sometime this year) should see the introduction of The Expanse, a space opera set within a future colonized solar system in which people living in the asteroid belt are oppressed by Earth and our heroes stumble across some sort of conspiracy.  The show sounded suspiciously like the Space Pirate idea that my son and I came up with last year over pizza.  I was almost on the phone with my attorneys, Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe, when I read that the Expanse is based on a book series by James S. A. Corey.  You may have gotten away with it this time Syfy…

Also in 2015 (again, sometime this year) two more space opera type shows are being produced for Syfy, Dark Matter is about a spaceship crew that come out of suspended animation with no memories of who they are and what they are doing there.  There is a lot of room for mystery there.  Also coming up is Killjoys about, who else, interplanetary bounty hunters. So take that Boba Fett.  That’s a lot of real science fiction on air.  So its good news, but I also hope it’s good science fiction.

 

 

Jeb Bush is Certifiable

Jeb Bush was in Iowa last week sticking his toe in the water to see if he really could win the general by losing the primary.  I have to give him credit; he’s willing to stick to unpopular positions, even if they are politically toxic.  He reiterated his support for Common Core, which is unpopular with some conservative activists, and opposed renewal fuel standards, which although they are not popular with Republicans in general, are popular in Iowa. So he’s not afraid to run against the grain. But I just can’t, in this or any other parallel universe, imagine Jeb Bush winning the Republican nomination.     Jeb Bush

David Frum wrote a piece in The Atlantic last month describing Bush as a Republican version of Obama in that they have created artificial identities to hide behind.  In Bush’s case, he is from a northeastern WASP family via Texas and now regards himself as an adopted Hispanic, speaking Spanish in the home, converting to Roman Catholicism, and moving to the Capital of Latin America, Miami.   He may be the Republican Obama, but that’s not really his problem.

I don’t think Jeb will be the nominee because:

Last name Bush. Dynasties don’t wear as well with Republicans as they do with Democrats. If Carolyn Kennedy threw her pill box shaped hat in the race, she would have a decent shot because…last name Kennedy. And this is even though she’s an incompetent who blew her chance to be appointed senator by being unable to talk in interviews. Hillary is the Democratic “front runner” now only because of dynasty.

His family is messed up.  His wife isn’t comfortable in English (probably because of the practice of speaking Spanish at home), She also has a shopping problem. All of his kids have been arrested at least once and his daughter was a drug addict.  Not exactly a picture perfect first family.

But the real clincher is that the only national issue Jeb is associated with is amnesty, which is unpopular with the base.  Now of course whoever does end up with the nomination will probably be pro amnesty too since any anti-amnesty candidate won’t be able to get the funds to run. Republican donors are as pro amnesty as Chuck Schumer. But the other candidates will be associated with other issues. Jeb won’t. And on that issue he looks vacillating and contradictory. As I have written about previously, he came out with a book in 2013 about amnesty in which he proposed not offering a path to citizenship. Since he had always supported amnesty with citizenship before, on day 1 of his book tour he was asked why he changed his mind, and he stammered and it turned out he hadn’t changed his mind at all. So the first day of his book tour he disavowed the central premise of the book he was trying to sell. That will come up over and over in 2016.

Of course, what Jeb was hoping for was that by the time 2016 rolled around, amnesty would have been a done deal, and he could have pointed to the book to say, “See? I was opposed to citizenship!” That would place him to the right of the actual policy. I think the odds look poor for that now.

As a governor he wasn’t bad and was pretty tight with the State dollar, however he didn’t have any input in Federal areas like immigration. Frum’s article does make a good case for the similarities between Jeb and Obama, but I think the real take away is that when it comes to immigration, Jeb is certifiable. He seems to have no other passions other than illegal immigrants. And it’s not even a logical obsession.  It’s actually more about preferring Latin Culture and people to the more Anglo variety that Jeb hails from.  How else to explain the illogic of wanting to grant people who illegally cross the border amnesty (who are mostly Hispanic), but deport people who actually entered the country legally, but overstayed their visas (and who are primarily not Hispanic)?   Never has an American politician been so blatant about replacing me and my family with someone else that he likes better. Bush is obviously carrying around some mental issues about his fellow Americans.

The Democrats are far more circumspect than this.

I hate to be one of those, “I’ll never vote for…” types who swear they’ll never vote if McCain/Romney/fill in the blank wins the nomination, but I think Jeb would actually be worse than any conceivable Democrat.  Except maybe Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, and even then, I’m not sure Gutiérrez is as obsessed with illegals as Jeb is.

 

 

My Burwell Bet

Supreme Court

 

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today for yet another Obamacare case, this time, it’s King v. Burwell.  What’s the case about?  In short, from the text of the ACA:

“…the monthly premiums for such month for 1 or more qualified health plans offered in the individual market within a State which cover the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or any dependent (as defined in section 152) of the taxpayer and which were enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under 1311…”

The key phrase is “an Exchange established by the State.”  So since most States didn’t set up an exchange forcing people into the Federal exchange, none of the subsidies given for health plans through the Federal exchange are legal.  The ACA plainly stated that subsides could only go through State exchanges and the IRS, which crafted a rule allowing subsides through the Federal exchange, overstepped its boundaries outside of the text of the law and is in error.  This should be an open and shut case.  The IRS violated the text of the law, it was wrong, and subsidies should be halted from going through the Federal exchange, right?

Heh!

I don’t believe the law has anything to do with how the Supreme Court arrives at decisions.  If there were any questions to that, the way the Court handled the individual mandate should settle them.  The Court is a political animal.  If it were ever truly interested in a just and reasoned weighing of law and the Constitution, those days are long passed. Of course that makes it easier for me to predict the Court’s behavior.

That’s how I was able to predict the Court’s decision over the individual mandate.  As I wrote then:

“My gut feeling is that the odds are better than even that the court will uphold the mandate.  I base that on the fact that the mandate has 4 automatic votes for.  So that means that only one vote is needed to be swayed among the other five Justices who actually have to study this case (unlike Ginsberg and Breyer, who will be windsurfing instead of reading law books). “

I was right because the Court decision (Robert’s changing his vote) was purely political.  So since I’m feeling cocky, I’ll go ahead and lay my marker down now.  So in spite of the actual text of the law limiting subsidies to State exchanges, I predict that the Court will find against the plaintiffs and rule that the subsidies can pass through the Federal exchange.  The 4 liberal judges will of course vote to uphold the subsidies because…Obama.  The magical swing vote will either be Kennedy or Roberts.  If Kennedy votes against the plaintiffs, then Roberts, to save the law, will vote for.  But if Kennedy votes for the plaintiffs; abolishing the Federal subsidies, then Roberts will vote against, since he will then have a free vote to show his independence; as long as it means nothing.

Of course, I could be totally wrong and the Court could surprise me.  But no breath holding on my part.

 

 

 

 

Blog of the Month: Slate Star Codex

Blogs don’t usually promote other blogs, but in the vast array of blogs, the blogosphere, or perhaps even larger than that, the multi-blogosphere, there are not a lot of blogs that are worth reading. Most of them parrots the day’s conventional wisdom, or the particular angle of the many competing ideologies; copied and repeated endlessly over and over.  If you read one anti PIV feminist blog, or “Obama is a Muslim” blog post, you might as well have read 10,000 of them.

So when you come across one that actually educates a bit, you take notice.  So from following link to link to link, I came across Slate Star Codex.  The writer, “Scott S Alexander” keeps his real identity secret (don’t we all?) but is a doctor who apparently has more time on his hands than a doctor should to generate such wordy, well researched posts. Politically, he seems vaguely centrist, which, when broken down to its components, means liberal.  However he’s liberal who actually seems to have educated himself on all things rightward.

As I’ve noted previously, that’s exceedingly rare.  So when I read his critique of Neo-Reactionary thought in his post, Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous Planet Sized Nutshell, I was blown away by the comprehensive depth and broad based understanding of the topic that was shown.  It was a better summary of Neo-Reaction than the Neo-Reactionaries have been able to produce.

So although impressed, I didn’t think much more about it, until I came across another link to the blog in which he broke down the major differences of left and right that probably comes as close to providing a unified field theory of the roots of the right and left as anything I’ve read.  In his post A Thrive/Survive Theory of the Political Spectrum, he overlaps right and left strategies on top of one of my favorite teaching tools, the Zombie Apocalypse.

Imagine the philosophical heights Socrates might have reached had he had the Zombie Apocalypse as a model for explaining various ideas?

Anyway, I recommend this blog.  I learn something every time I read it.  I wish that was the case with everything else I read.

 

Crusades VS ISIS: What’s the difference?

The President kicked up quite a ruckus last week during the National Pray Breakfast when in his remarks he compared ISIL to the Crusades. 

No really.  First the warm up:

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions. 

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

So he is clearly putting his remarks in context with events that are occurring now.  But then, the swerve:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation. 

So all of you people who are part of the coalition that’s fighting the Islamic State, hey, you’re not so great.  You are really as bad as the people you’re bombing.

Some pep talk huh?

I have to admit, I do find that mindboggling. Moral relativism is for academics and unemployed hipsters, not the President. The only reason to try to compare ISIS today with the Crusades centuries ago is to excuse ISIS. In the same week that a Jordanian pilot was burned alive by ISIS, the President feels the need to make a comparison with the Crusades? How does that help the coalition that he ostensibly leads?  Can you imagine FDR making the same comparisons with Hitler’s Germany?

“Troops, before you storm the beaches of Normandy, risking your lives to liberate France, just remember, you are no better than the people you are fighting.  Sure the Nazi’s are killing and enslaving people, but what do you think our country has done?  Massacred Indians enslaved Africans.  Really, we’re no better than the people I’m ordering you to kill.  So get to it!”

Basically the President is saying his side is no better than their side.

At a time in which the insane overreach of the Islamic State has lead to an opportunity to unify the Middle East against the IS, the President blew a chance to make it clear that the west was going to stand with Muslims and others who wished to support it against barbarians.  Instead he brought up the Islamist’s favorite go-to scare story about the West, the Crusades, and condemned his own side for thinking it was better than they were.

 

 

 

Scott Walker Peaking Too Early?

Scott Walker’s “surprise” win of the Kansas Straw Poll may be a shock to the establishment, but its zero surprise to me. Walker’s win has generated a flurry of articles on Walker as well as an appearance on This Week. But as far back as a year ago, I predicted Walker would probably be the best all around choice for the 2016 Republican primary process. He’s a governor of a purple/blue State who rose to national prominence battling the budget, pension reform, and unions.  He is attractive to both establishment types for a solid record of actually winning, and grass roots types for the ability to take on and wrestle to the ground left leaning special interests; something that’s not seen much these days.Scott Walker

Walker’s national prominence came about with his fight with Wisconsin public sector unions.  I wrote about the skirmish back in 2011 and thought at the time that Walker’s victory could have spelled the beginning of the end for public sector unions.  Alas, so far that victory has remained just Walker’s.   But the enmity he earned from both local and national Democrats and the left in general lead to a recall election, which Walker won handily.

By Republican standards, Walker is a stand out success story.  He battled the left and rather than backing down under a barrage of negative press, which Republicans traditionally do, Walker stuck to his guns and won a pretty substantial victory. Compare that to Jeb Bush, who’s sat out the various political battles since the 1990’s and now expects to ride in on a golden, donor financed chariot to be crowned the nominee based on the divine right of Bushes.

The Republicans do have a deep bench, at least compared to the Democrats.  In fact the Democrat’s bench consists of one person, Hillary Clinton.  If she gets sick, the Dems are in trouble for 2016. But the Republican’s bench consists of establishment types that are anathema to the base of the party, like Jeb Bush, and social conservative types that are anathema to the establishment like Mike Huckabee. The converged area on the Venn diagram of candidates that both the base and establishment can live with is almost as limited as the Democrats presidential bench.

Walker’s major problem with the base is his immigration position.  Walker has tried to be cagey and hold every position on the issue at once.  He has both supported a path to citizenship and made vague comments about fixing the system.”  However the fixing doesn’t seem to include border security or a wall.  In other words, he’s a pro amnesty open borders type, which should please the establishment wing.  Although I would love to make amnesty a disqualifier, the fact is there are no, I mean zero commonly mentioned Republican potential 2016 candidates that oppose amnesty.

In any case if Walker does enter the race, he’ll have to quit being cagy about immigration and speak directly to the issue.

But immigration isn’t even his biggest problem yet.  When I made my prediction on Walker last year, it was based on the idea that the talking heads and establishment media wouldn’t pay any attention to Walker until at least the Iowa Caucuses. But the results of the Kansas straw poll show that plenty of other Republicans were thinking along the same lines as I was.  The media has rediscovered Walker this week and they will remember in short order that they despise him. Walker is like Sarah Palin and Allen West combined, with a little Tom DeLay sprinkled on top. It’s too bad he couldn’t have flown under the radar a while longer, but if there is one Republican who knows how to fight back, it’s Scott Walker.

 

No One Expects the Gay Bakery Inquisition

Of all the myriad ways that the social and political battle over gay marriage could have evolved, I don’t think anyone could have seen coming the gay war on bakeries; cake on cake, icing against icing.  But that’s the current battlefield; make of that what you will.Gay Inquisition

As to the latest battle in the ongoing cake war:

Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.

According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.

She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn’t want that.

Clearly the guy ordering the cake was a troll trying to make a point, and no doubt the point will soon be made since the case was referred to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, but if you are anxiously wondering what, oh what they will decide, if their response is anything other than the allowing the baker to decline anti-Gay bigotry on her cakes, I’ll have a double helping of gay wedding cake with rainbow icing.  In fact, I’ll have a slice regardless of what the Colorado Civil Rights Division decides, because that sounds delicious.

However it will have to be on a “cheat day.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time this sort of trolling has occurred.  A Christian website called bakeries to see if they would make a cake with “Gay Marriage is wrong” written on it.  You can guess the results, but hey, there are some opinions a business owner can apply to his customers and others that he can’t.

Of course the original troll (of which there have been many copies) was the legal action taken against the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery for refusing to bake a gay wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The shop was run out of business and started a veritable war on bakeries by gays that quickly expanded into other wedding services.

In New Mexico, a photographer who declined a job offer of photographing a same sex commitment ceremony was sued by New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission even though New Mexico didn’t even have gay marriage or civil unions at the time.  The photographer’s defense was on First Amendment grounds, but the First is gradually joining the Second in Amendments the left no longer recognizes. So a totally made up thing; like a “commitment ceremony” becomes not just a civil right, but a demand on everyone else to support it. Now on the list of services that this photographer provides, I rather much doubt “commitment ceremonies” were listed on the price sheet. But someone decided to troll and harass this businessperson anyway.  There is also the more famous Washington State florist case.

These aren’t religious institutions, these are individuals, and it looks like individuals are having their rights peeled away.  I can’t be indifferent to gay marriage, or even merely tolerant of it, the law is gradually going to force me to love, love, love gay marriage.

Religious institutions will eventually get theirs.  The people on the left who say they support religious freedom sure were supportive of the Obama administration’s initiative to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception.  If they can do that, they will eventually force churches to perform gay marriages.  That already happens in Europe and will happen in the US eventually, First Amendment or no First Amendment.

The US has become a strange and confusing place, where “rights” have become a zero sum game. For someone to get “rights” someone else must surrender theirs.

When “rights” start to conflict, then you are no longer talking about rights, you are talking about groups that have political power dumping on groups that don’t; even at the cost of real, constitutional rights. It’s pretty clear in this example whose constitutional rights are being violated.

The battle against gay marriage has long been lost, and it’s inevitable that in time, it will spread out to all 50 states.  If West Point is hosting gay marriages, then the Vatican will eventually.  Marriage went from being a social institution to civil right with benefits and prizes.   But during that battle, I’ve been told over and over that it doesn’t affect me and it doesn’t affect my marriage.

Yet no sooner did the Court ruling tide turned, the story changed, and I was told gay marriage meant there is a new (gay) sheriff in town, and his name is Intolerance.

I knew the promise that someone else’s gay marriage wouldn’t bother anyone would turn out to be a lie, but I admit I’m surprised with how rapidly we’ve gone to, “I just want my partner and I to have what you have,” to “You’re not allowed to ignore me, you must provide services for my over the top marriage extravaganza!  And if you don’t, I’ll see you in court!”

For the record, if I were a baker I would have no problem with taking money to make gay wedding cakes. In fact, that’s probably true for 99.9 percent of bakeries across the US, but then, there would be no reason to troll me or the vast majority of bakeries happy to make fabulous gay wedding cakes would there?  Instead, the hunt would be on to track down and run out of business the few who did have a problem with it.

To me, the common sense solution is that no baker should have to provide services he fundamentally opposes, but that’s too simple an answer now.  One view has to dominate and drive out everyone else who opposes it.