The Tao of Stargate Universe

A head-on view of the Earth Stargate.
Image via Wikipedia

As a longtime fan of the Stargate franchise, I was looking forward to the new entry in to the Stargate television family, Stargate Universe.  Although I have to admit I was a bit cautious in my expectations.  The Stargate shows, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, have been in my opinion damn near perfect science fiction TV.  The premise, that aliens thousands of years ago had kidnapped humans from Earth and settled them all over the galaxy as slaves via a Stargate, a massive ring that allows instantaneous travel between solar systems, allows just about any type of potential science fiction plot device.  In one episode the heroes could be halfway across the galaxy liberating humans from an evil alien overlord; in the next they could be downtown in Colorado Springs, getting a pizza.  Or sometimes in the same episode.  Humor and current pop culture references kept the show anchored in the here and now, while at the same time allowing the traditional action adventure in the stars.  Earth and the US Air Force manage to beat technologically superior aliens time and again.  Go us!

But when I first heard the premise of the show; humans trapped on an Ancient spaceship halfway across the universe, my first instinct was, “Uh oh, this is going to be Stargate’s Voyager.  Voyager was the second to last in the Star Trek shows, which has a starship from the Star Trek Federation… halfway across the galaxy.  The purpose was to take advantage of the Star Trek franchise but at the same time pull away from the usual cast of situations and aliens, which had started to grow stale.  It was a concept that had only meager success, and showed the franchise was on life support, finally flat lining during Star Trek Enterprise.

But the producers had promised an “edgier” Stargate than the previous incarnations.  Edgier?  Full frontual, or a FX-like use of profanity?  But setting down to watch the premiere episode I was afraid edgier would merely mean the same thing as it meant to the makers of Heroes; cut the lights off and film in the dark.  Note to TV producers: noir doesn’t mean filming without klieg lights.  At this point, the brightness level on my TV is all the way up and I still can’t see what’s going on in Heroes.  If I decide to finish the season for that show, I may just finish it as podcasts and listen to them since I can’t see what’s happening on the screen anyway.

And in the premiere episode Air, that started to look like what they meant.  The quick premise of the show, is that a planet that has unique properties and Stargate, has a secret military base.  The  Earth base personnel, who were on the planet to discover the mysteries of the “Ninth Chevron” figure out how to use the unique gate just as the planet comes under the attack of perfectly timed aliens.  Beating a hasty retreat through the Stargate, the base survivors discover themselves on board an Ancient (a humanlike highly technological race that disappeared tens of thousands of years ago in the Stargate mythology) starship, with no means to power the ship’s stargate to get back to Earth.

Naturally the ship is in total darkness when they board.  Edgy.

The first couple of episodes of the show revolve around the crew trying to wrap themselves around solving the most basic survival needs, as the episode names indicate, Air, Light, Water… Episodes filled with the grimness and stress of their situation, but little humor or action to break the ice.  Frankly, not bad episodes, but not great either.   However I’m embarrassed to say it took me until the most recent episode, Justice, to figure out what “edgy” was supposed to mean.

The producers were not doing the Stargate version of Voyager; they were doing the Stargate version of Battlestar Galactica.

Galactica (the updated version, not the 1970’s feathered hair version) was almost revolutionary in it’s approach.  It stripped out the aliens, weird spatial phenomena, time travel, technobabble, and other props of the SF genre and just left the people; highly imperfect people.  Heroes were not always heroic, or truthful, villains were not always villainous, or lying.  Galactica raised the bar on TV science fiction, making it an adult drama, and the Emmy’s that Galactica won during its 5 season run bear that out.

So I consider myself fully on board with Stargate Universe now, and feel free to recommend the show, although with caveats.  While Galactica had me hooked with the first miniseries that launched the show, I’ve been mulling over Stargate Universe.  I was not hooked until recently.  It may be that just my expectations of what a Stargate show should be made me blind to what the producers were trying to do with this version of Stargate.  This isn’t your geeky father’s Stargate.  It definitely has a different feel to the show, dare I say edgier?

Why bring this up now?  The show has been on for months.

True, but the show is on a brief hiatus until the spring and tomorrow the Syfy channel is running all nine of the previously aired episodes back to back all day.  So if you are out of work, nerdy, and somehow missed the previous showings, now is a good opportunity to catch up.

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Stormy Fall Weather for Global Warming

As much fun as Climate-gate has been generating the past few weeks, it’s almost hard to remember that Climate-gate is actually autumn’s second big global warming story.  The release of the book Superfreakonomics generated the first global warming contretemps, just as the weather got chillier and leaves began to fall.

Superfreakonomics is the sequel to the wildly successful Freakonomics, by economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in which the authors apply standard economic analysis to all sorts of other behaviors not traditionally examined by economists, such as the economics of drug dealing, incentives for cheating for Chicago public school teachers, and predicting what the most popular children’s names will be in the future.  Probably the most controversial issue they researched was the link to legalized abortion and declining crime rates.  Their conclusion?   There is a link; a finding that did not engender themselves to many on the right.

This time it’s the left’s turn to get skewered.  Levitt and Dubner turn their economic analysis to solutions to global warming.  First it’s important to note that Levitt and Dubner are not global warming “deniers” or “skeptics.”  They accept the media/Al Gore consensus that global warming is happening and it’s largely manmade.  What sets them apart is what to do about it.  They find it cheaper and more cost effective to resort to geoengineering.

One method in particular strikes them as particularly cost effective.  In 1991 Mt. Pinatubo erupted, pumping 15 to 300 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere and reduced global temperatures by about half a degree Celsius for years.  Levitt and Dubner asked themselves, wouldn’t it be more cost effective to try to duplicate that effect rather than strangle our economy for decades at a cost of trillions?  Turns out someone is already working on the idea:  Intellectual Ventures is a company that is developing a workable, and affordable, method of cooling the planet.  They figured that 100 million tons of sulfur dioxide per year would be enough to reverse warming.  It sounds like a lot except that we already pump 200 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere per year.  We just aren’t getting it high enough in the atmosphere.  IV came up with a plan that would send, via a hose, pumps, and helium balloons, sufficient amounts of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to stave off any warming for an initial cost of $20 million, and operating costs of $10 million a year.

Find me another global warming solution cheaper than that.

Naturally this threw the true believers into fits.  I’ve always suspected that global warming was as much a religious belief as scientific theory.  The Superfreakanomics attackers basically confirm that (to me anyway) by arguing that the main issue is to change human behavior. Oddly, they even argue that the computerized climate models would have to be far more accurate in order to make such a plan work (More about why that is so funny later). If there was a real consensus on the right and left that anthropogenic global warming was actually happening, that is probably where the divide would be:  The right would want the most cost effective method that would impact people and business the least, and the left would want to control human behavior, control the global economy, and have international bodies tax nation-states to mitigate the results of climate change.

Since the true believers are primarily on the left, their “solutions” dominate the debate, with geo engineering considered as much a heresy as Arianism was to the early Christian church.

Which of course brings us to Climate-gate.

The contents of the e-mails have been gone over so many times on so many websites that they hardly need to be rehashed here.  The critical summary is that the Climate Research Unit’s scientists conspired to, fire editors of scientific journals to control the peer review process, cite instances in which they use “tricks” to massage the data, and delete data in order to avoid a Freedom of Information Request; a crime, and in fact, they now admit to deleting all of their original climate station data, leaving only the “value-added,” massaged data left.

All damaging to be sure, but the most damaging of all to me is the “Harry_read_me.txt.”  This documents the attempts of one of the programmers to translate the climate data into something that could be modeled on the climate modeling software.

Basically its crap.

In fact, it’s so bad that I think the true state of climate modeling is even worse than I thought it was, and I never thought it was sophisticated enough to determine if climate warming was man made or not.  Since none of the climate models predicted the post 1998 cooling, I figured they weren’t any good, but these revelations make me think that we are not even in the ball park of reasonably close climate modeling.

A few weeks ago, before the news on Climate-gate had broken, someone claimed that nothing could convince me of anthropogenic global warming.  Ah but there is.  Build a computerized climate model that can accept the inputs of climate that we already know we’ve had, say, from 1960 to 1990, and see if it can predict the climate for the next ten years, to 2000.  Since we already know what the weather actually was for that period of time, reasonably close results would give us an indicator if the model actually works.  Then maybe you could put in the variable of increased CO2 and see if it shows increased temperature; global warming in other words.

But we still are not even close to doing that.  In fact we are still so far off from that I despair of seeing that combination of software and processing power for decades, if ever.  Certainly it won’t be ready for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, which started today.  Not that they need actual science for the conference.  They are basing their conclusions on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which bases their science on, you guessed it, the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit!

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog expressing my doubts of manmade global warming, and it looks to me as if everything that has come out since then have made my doubts grow.  However if you are a true believer, nothing, not the CRU e-mail scandal, or even the actual halt in global temperatures since 1998 will deter you.  The delegates to the Copenhagen conference, with their 1,200 limos and 140 private planes, are true believers.  President Obama, who will be flying in next week to put his stamp of approval on whatever agreement comes out of the conference, is a true believer.  And the EPA, which as of today announced that carbon dioxide will “pose a threat to human health and welfare,” are true believers.

Even if global temperatures continue to fall for the next 10 to 20 years, it may be at least that long before the AGW skeptics start to get some traction.  We’ve already had 10 years of no increase in global temperatures with no let up on the true believers dominating public policy in virtually every industrialized country on the planet.

It might take a new ice age to thaw out that consensus.