Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Poli-Sci-Fi Radio

Sunday Night Links with Yoda, Clark Kent, and Banksy

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Voyager 2 Hacked by Aliens!

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Read between the lines here. Via Alex C in today’s PSFR chat.

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May 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Benen for President

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Wise observers agree that health care reform might not have happened without the tireless work of my friend Steve Benen.

But I’d like to single out one person who deserves more praise than he’s going to claim or is likely to get: Steve Benen himself.  After Scott Brown won, Democrats’ first reaction was panic.  The analogy most often drawn, though it in retrospect seems deranged to compare the loss of a Senate super-majority to the loss of both Houses, was to Clinton’s situation, and his reaction, after the Republican victories of 1994.  Steve stepped in on January 20—just a day after Coakley’s loss, a full week before the State of the Union—with an alternative: “pass the damn bill,” and then amend it via reconciliation.  I believe he invented the slogan, though Kevin Drum picked it up a few hours later.  I know that he flogged it, immediately, relentlessly and repeatedly, through good news and bad: see, for example, herehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere, andhere.  It became proverbial.  It became the popular title—and, thanks to alert fans, the easy-to-remember URL—of Steve’s pithy, powerful strategy memo making the case for moving forward.  It cemented Democratic opinion around the idea that failure was not an option—and, more important, that incremental reform counted as failure.

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March 23, 2010 at 9:21 am

Two Brushes with Greatness

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* The 100th episode of the Poli-Sci-Fi Radio podcast is now online, with visits from Rachel Maddow, Matt Yglesias, Brian Wood, and Casey MacKinnon as well as yours truly. The Rachel Maddow interview (beginning at 42:50) is in particular extremely cool, with Rachel talking not just about her favorite comics but also why she doesn’t wear her awesome glasses on MSNBC and even (yes) what sort of tree she would be if she could be any tree. Her answer to this, like everything else about her, is awesome.

* Another brush with greatness: I saw a screening of The Yes Men Fix the World at Duke tonight with the actual Yes Men themselves in attendance. As promised by The House Next Door’s review from a few months ago, the film is indeed everything Capitalism: A Love Story should have been but wasn’t. (These were, in fact, the first words Jaimee said to me as we left the theater. She is wise.)

Friday Friday Night Night

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* Fox News: Don’t send your kids to college because they could catch the libralz. But if you do at least they won’t be as dumb as 30% of Texans.

* One Million Ways to Die.

* Stories to watch: activists may actually manage to bring the public option back from the death. Reid himself signaled he’s open to the idea today. Ezra Klein explains the politics at work:

No one I’ve spoken to — even when they support the public option — thinks that its reemergence is good news for health-care reform. It won’t be present in the package that the White House will unveil Monday. Everyone seems to be hoping this bubble will be short-lived.

But it might not be. The media is talking about it, liberals are organizing around it, none of the major actors feels politically capable of playing executioner, and Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson don’t have the power to do the job on their own. As of now, the strategy only has 20 or so supporters, and it’ll need at least another 20 or 25 to really be viable. But if it gets there, White House and Senate leadership are going to have some hard calls to make.

Ezra also says that as long as we’re playing make-believe it should be the Medicare buy-in we bring back.

* Rachel bestows unto Meet the Press another Maddow Bump. Will she do the same when she improbably shares a bill with me on Poli-Sci-Fi Radio this Sunday?

* I can’t help it: I love to see Wil Wheaton and William Shatner get work.

* Breaking: rich people are rich, pay no taxes.

* Iain M. Banks, Please Destroy The Culture! Via io9.

* Flowchart of the day: Does Tiger Woods owe you an apology?

* And Gynomite dramatically underestimates my level of interest in the penny’s new design. Coming Monday, my new blog,…

What Philosophers Believe

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The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students. This has both a survey and a metasurvey that asked a smaller group to predict the results of the original survey. Shockingly, a full 69% percent of philosophers get the teleporter problem wrong:

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

Accept or lean toward: survival 337 / 931 (36.1%)
Other 304 / 931 (32.6%)
Accept or lean toward: death 290 / 931 (31.1%)

The consequentialist approach to the trolley problem turns out to have become hegemonic.

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?

Accept or lean toward: switch 635 / 931 (68.2%)
Other 225 / 931 (24.1%)
Accept or lean toward: don’t switch 71 / 931 (7.6%)

Also interesting: pluralities believe philosophical zombies are conceivable but not metaphysically possible (I concur) and rejects the terms of Newcomb’s Paradox (not sure what this can mean in practice). 73% are atheists.

All this and more via MeFi.

Single Payer

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I learned on Poli-Sci-Fi Radio this week that the Canadian single-payer health-care system came about after its successful adoption in a single province, Saskatchewan. It’s this fact of history that makes me think progressives should be directing much more money and support to groups like the single-payer movement in California, organized around support for SB 810.

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October 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Good News, Bad News, Good News, Bad News

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Dollhouse fandom can’t figure out if it’s getting good news or bad news. With DVR numbers, it turns out Dollhouse‘s ratings are 50% higher. But this only puts the show’s total viewership about even with the live viewership during mid-season last year. Fox is promising to air all 13 episodes, which is also a good sign—but a strong “And that’s it” seems to be fairly loudly implied. And Stargate Universe beat it again.

At least last Friday’s episode was decent—best of the season so far, though not near the heights of episodes 1.6-1.11 or “Epitaph One.”

Elsewhere in televised SF news, ABC is so happy with Flashforward‘s ratings they’ve ordered 9 more episodes. Who mourns for Bill Simmon?

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October 13, 2009 at 12:08 am

Terry Gilliam on Watchmen

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Next time Bill Simmon gives me grief for not liking Watchmen, I think I’ll just direct him to the comments of Mr. Terry Gillian.

Quint: That’s what we love about you guys. Now, did you see WATCHMEN? Did you end up seeing it?

Terry Gilliam: Yeah, I thought it strange. I thought it was too reverential. That’s what I really thought it was.

Quint: Faithful to a fault, yeah. I would agree with that.

Terry Gilliam: And you look at it and he’s tried really… so much is stunning. It got trashed, but there are great sequences in there, but the overall effect is kind of turgid in a certain way.

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September 2, 2009 at 4:33 am

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A few quick Dollhouse reflections in light of tonight’s “season” finale. Spoilers below, naturally.

* All in all the Alpha plotline was fairly disappointing, my appreciation for Alan Tudyk aside. It reduced a little too neatly to a run-of-the-mill serial-killer plotline when there seemed to be much, much more potential there. I’m not calling network interference, necessarily, but things seemed rushed and a little undercooked. Joss fumbled this one.

(UPDATE: To be more precise, he fumbled the plotline in almost exactly the same way he fumbled the Adam and First Evil storylines on Buffy. The composite event—which shouldn’t have been caused by a mechanical malfunction—should have made Alpha actually Godlike. Alpha’s portrayal in this episode ruins almost everything about what was interesting about the character to begin with. It’s also somewhat inconsistent with the way the event had been portrayed in earlier episodes, especially with regard to Topher and Adele’s puzzlement over how it happened—which is not to suggest Dollhouse has a particularly good record on the consistency front in any case.)

* Called the Fred situation last week, though I was hoping she’d known she was a Doll all along. I think the character had significantly more potential that way—though it’s interesting to think that she was just set up to be the hero of the second season, the Dollhouse’s only self-aware victim and the audience’s new clearest focal point for narrative identification.

* Which also makes her a pretty good candidate for season two’s Big Bad.

* Neil and I spent a lot of time last week talking about Dr. Saunders and whether or not her Dollness suggests that the Dollhouse is able to do direct editing/programming of memories (“imprint code”), as opposed to a fuzzier, less exact approach (“imprint soup”). (I’d always assumed imprint code, and that most of the characters would turn out to have been modified in some way or another; Neil was more skeptical.) At first glance, this episode suggests they can edit directly—but the more I think about it it seems more likely that every Dr. Saunders is a Doll.

UPDATE: Though the fact that Fred/Saunders remembers a version of the Alpha attack that explains her scars may shift the balance back towards direct editing / imprint coding again.

* Is Victor really gone? He was one of the best actors on the show, that’s just not possible.

* It will would be interesting to see whether Mellie is really released. I’m also curious what deal Ballard signed; “I’m nobody” suggests he agreed to do the rest of her service as a Doll, whereas I think most people were expecting he’d be hired as a handler.

* Since the Dollhouse’s contracts aren’t legal, of course, there’s no reason not to have your cake and eat it too. Once Ballard is enslaved, bring Madeline back in for a treatment.

* It also remains the case that you’d want every employee to be a Doll, all things being equal; see Dr. Saunders above. Why would they even let Dominics, Boyds, and Tophers in the door, when they can cook up compliant and perfectly loyal substitutes in-house? One possible answer to this might have to do with the exact nature of the Doll programs; if they’re imprint-soups as opposed to imprint-codes, maybe there are structural limits to how long they can be used before the personality imprint goes bad or breaks down.

* Echo/ED remains, by far, the least interesting thing about this show. I was really hoping they’d kill off the Caroline wedge so at least something interesting would happen there.

* Well, that’s a little unfair; apropos of the Great Transporter Debate this episode makes it a little hard to see how the process of being “wiped” isn’t itself necessarily death. If we accept that continuity of consciousness is required for metaphysical identity—and we wave our hands at things like sleep for just a moment—then it would seem to be the case that “Caroline” can be hypothetically restored after her five years are up and she’s hypothetically released from her contract. But it’s equally clear that the person who wakes up in Chrissy Seaver’s body is not metaphysically identical to the original Caroline. So how can the one revival result in a “real” resurrection and the other in a “false” one? What’s the difference between “copy” and “restore”? It could only be Ballard’s “soul,” which, like Topher, I scoff at. So it seems to me that when you’re switched off, that’s it, you’re dead, which has some pretty serious implications for comas, head injury, amnesia, insanity, aging, sleep, and just about everything else having to do with what we naively believe consciousness is.

*Hope you noticed and enjoyed the brief Firefly shout-out as much as I did. Take that, Fox. (UPDATE: Missed at first the Angel bit about souls in jars—it was a double shoutout to both his unjustly canceled shows…)

Sadly, despite the hopes of all good nerds, that’s probably it for Dollhouse. But “Epitaph One” comes out with the DVD this July, and there’s even rumors today that Joss might spin-off that into a new show. Because spin-offs of failed one-season flops are so very common.

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May 9, 2009 at 2:30 am

Lucky for Me I Minored in Transporter Metaphysics

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Speaking of Star Trek, the Poli-Sci-Fi Radio podcast got deep into the weeds this week on Dollhouse, The Prestige, clone “immortality,” and how the transporter on Star Trek is a fax machine that shreds its input when it’s done with it. (Bill has more on his home blog.)

Having spent a good portion of my childhood working out the metaphysical implications of such technology, I myself was moved to comment. As someone with a well-documented and simply unhealthy fear of death, I must admit that the consciousness-as-Ship-of-Theseus direction these discussions invariably take is both the only possible solution to the problem as well as a clear ontological horror in its own right.

Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction

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Nine words you might think came from science but which are really from science fiction. Via Boing Boing and Poli-Sci-Fi Radio.

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April 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm

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It’s official: the Joss-Whedon-penned sixth episode of Dollhouse is being hyped to the stratosphere.

Cribbing from an email conversation that went out to some Poli-Sci-Fi Radio regulars early in the week, I must admit I still have some pretty serious reservations about Dollhouse. My enjoyment of the show rises each week, mostly because the much-more-interesting supplementary cast is getting more to do and some of the B plots are starting to take shape. (The less Eliza Dushku is on the screen, the better the show is, in other words.)

But some of the show’s basic premises remain, frankly, poorly thought out. The economics of the Dollhouse don’t make any real sense; the overhead involved and the stated price structure would make almost any of these missions cost-ineffective. (Echo as a midwife? Why? There are *already* midwives.) As Neil reminds me each week, nearly every episode contains several scenes in which characters laboriously sign contracts that would never in a million years be enforceable. Even the character of Topher is deeply problematic; if the Dollhouse were “real” he’d be one of the top executives of the company, because real companies start with a product/idea/whatever and then build a company around it, not the other around. (You wouldn’t say “I want to start a company that uses brainwashed people for illegal purposes. Now I just need to find a guy who can brainwash people!” You’d start with the technology, which means you’d start with Topher. This is why I think Topher is a Doll, FYI, and Amy Acker too. And arguably the whole cast.)

But the biggest apparent flaw in the premise of the show is that the narrative structure of episodic television requires there to be major screw-ups every week, but the characters nonetheless have to believe the technology is trustworthy. So, every week they are shocked to discover the Dolls are broken, even though the Dolls are broken every single week. Not to mention that the very first one went on a huge killing spree they all witnessed.

When we combine these sorts of nitpicky logical problems with the fact that all of Eliza Dushku’s characters reduce to Faith—even the blind biblethumper says “move your ass!”*—we have a series-rebooting sixth episode that Joss really needs to hit out of the park.

Unabashed Whedonite that I am, though, I think he may actually pull it off. The episode description for the eighth episode [photos] certainly sounds as if it will be actively good, as opposed to just passable…

* I am familiar with the fan-wank that these may be moments in which Caroline’s original personality is shining through. And that’s as fine a cover for Eliza Dushku’s acting limitations as I’m likely to get, and it’s good enough as far as it goes. But unfortunately it takes us right back to the far bigger problem of the Idiot Plot Device. It is completely implausible for these people to insist over and over that this technology is foolproof when on both macro- and micro-scales it’s obvious to anyone it isn’t. Unless there’s a saboteur, or something else that accounts for the recent spate of serious systemic failures, the machine plainly doesn’t work right.

(most links via the indispensible Whedonesque)

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March 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm

SEK Watches ‘Watchmen’

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Scott Eric Kaufman finally gets around to watching Watchmen. Special attention is paid to the absurd ubiquity of the Twin Towers throughout the film, something my viewing group mocked afterwards but which hasn’t come up in discussions here thus far.

My review was also a focus of the discussion on the Poli-Sci-Fi Radio podcast this week, to which my rage-filled rebuttal is currently being shouted impotently into the void.

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March 11, 2009 at 2:13 am

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Watchmen Boogaloo

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As if you might ever get sick of hearing about Watchmen, Bill’s review at Candleblog takes mine as a starting point but goes on to defend the movie against me/Moore/itself.

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March 9, 2009 at 3:11 pm

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