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White House Backing Away from Net Neutrality? Not So Much

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments

An opinion column at CNET News suggests that the White House is backing away from the strong Net Neutrality position taken by FCC Chairman Genachowski. Larry Downes, “nonresident fellow at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society,” writes:

The Obama administration and its allies at the Federal Communications Commission are retreating from a militant version of Net neutrality regulations first outlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in September.

That’s my reading of a number of recent developments, underscored by comments made by government speakers on a panel on the first day of a Tech Policy Summit at CES in Las Vegas….

The administration is clearly backtracking. But why?

Part of the reason is some unexpected political pressure, including a letter signed by 72 congressional Democrats opposing the FCC’s proposed rules soon after they were announced.

But the bigger explanation is the growing priority within the administration for nationwide, affordable broadband service. In the course of preparing the national broadband plan, mandated by the 2009 stimulus bill, universal high-speed access has taken on increased significance in the government’s hopes for a rapid economic recovery. Beyond the current financial woes, Congress, the FCC and the White House all recognize the importance of improving the communications infrastructure to maintain U.S. competitiveness in technology innovation….

The major carriers are making the investments, and have every business reason to make more. But the Net neutrality rules, depending on how the FCC defines key terms, could hamstring their efforts to make their money back. Net neutrality is making Wall Street uncomfortable about financing broadband deployment. That in turn is making the White House nervous.

Net neutrality is turning out to be a noisy side show and a growing distraction from the real priority for both the White House and the FCC: getting the country wired for recovery.

The argument that somehow the administration had completely changed position on the criticality of Net Neutrality as a key component of expanding broadband deployment and the recovery plan was a new one to me. I asked Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press and the smartest Net Neutrality expert I know, for his take on this interpretation:

Downes offers a series of loose assumptions and scant evidence to support his idea that the White House is backing away from Net Neutrality.

The notion that Net Neutrality is a “sideshow” when it comes to the “real priority” of using the Internet for our recovery blithely ignores the role an open Internet plays to fuel innovation and economic growth in the country.

I gather Downes was too busy conjuring conclusions to have read yesterday’s report from several NYU legal scholars and economists who find that Net Neutrality fosters an essential “open and entrepreneurial dynamic” that “creates billions of dollars in value for American public.” (http://policyintegrity.org/documents/Free_to_Invest.pdf)

The idea that Net Neutrality thwarts investment in network improvements has been thoroughly debunked by real market data. And connecting more people to a non-Neutral (and therefore value-less) Internet is not a sound economic solution.

There has been a concerted effort by AT&T to undermine Genachowski’s strong NN position, including a massive astroturfing campaign with progressive bloggers and organizations (of which I’ve been a target, receiving a handful of e-mails from USIIA, a proxy for AT&T and the phone and cable industry) in an attempt to convince us that strong NN means massive job loss and thus Democratic losses. That effort did get 72 Congressional Dems (all but two of whom received “received campaign donations this year from Internet service providers, the companies most likely to be impacted by new regulations”). But there’s no evidence, outside of Downes’ interpretation, that the administration is wavering.

The FCC is still taking public comments on its strong NN proposed rule-making. Save the Internet has an easy-to-use online tool that you can use to add your support for the proposed rule. But you have to act soon–the comment period closes next Thursday, Jan. 14.


Midday Open Thread

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments
  • Portugal, which, by the way, is 84% Catholic, becomes the sixth European country to legalize same-sex marriage. As Joe Sudbay at Americablog points out, it’s refreshing to see a government that isn’t run by the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • President Obama will:

    … unveil a $2.3 billion tax credit on Friday to promote clean energy technology and boost job creation in the hard-hit manufacturing sector, the White House said.

    It said in a statement the credit, from funds earmarked under an emergency $787 billion stimulus package Obama signed in February 2009, would create 17,000 new U.S. jobs and would be matched by an additional $5 billion in private capital.

  • Fire up the tea kettles:

    In a National Journal survey of 109 Republican “party leaders, political professionals and pundits”, not a single one deemed Sarah Palin to be the most likely Republican nominee.

  • Tom Cole (R-OK), the only Native American in the House, calls RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s use of the phrase, “honest injun,” unacceptable and offensive. And maybe when Steele’s book tour is over, he’ll apologize.
  • Who knew? Bob Bennett (R-UT) just isn’t conservative enough:

    “Bob Bennett is out of touch with the times and with his state, and Utah Republicans have better choices for their candidate in November,” Club President Christ Chocola said.

    “Our extensive research into the race suggests Utah Republicans already understand this, as they have begun rallying around several viable and superior candidates,” he continued. “The Club for Growth PAC is committed to seeing one of them defeat Bennett either at the nominating convention in May or in a primary election in June.”

  • Read greendem’s diary and learn how dangerous it can be for a cartoonist in a teabagging world.
  • Can someone please light a fire under Martha Coakley?

    According to PPP’s Tom Jensen, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s sleepy campaign–which is increasingly starting to irritate party strategists who trusted her to lock the race down early–has resulted in an electorate that’s more Republican than usual and more anti-health care reform than the state as a whole. Brown, one of the few Republicans of stature in the state, has a 60 percent favorable rating–a result of his own ads and of being basically ignored by Coakley.

  • From the you-can’t-make-this-shit-up files:

    Fed up with the mainstream media filter, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) is taking her quest to inform Americans about the threat of jihad to the Internet — namely, YouTube — in a new weekly terror news video series that will be featured on her congressional Web site.

    Who is paying for Myrick’s little one-woman jihad?

  • A former GOP chairman says that a gubernatorial bid by Norm Coleman is a “bad idea both for Coleman and for Minnesota.”
  • Will anyone listen?

    Mountaintop coal mining — in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off and stream valleys buried under tons of rubble — is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits to do it, a group of scientists said in a paper released Thursday.

  • Geraldo Rivera flip-flops on racial profiling.
  • Elvis Presley would have been 75 years old today.


Christina Gagnier: CES–The Answer to Publishing Industry Woes: Mobility

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

CES’ Super Session 7: Big Thinkers and Disruptive Technologies- Today’s Thought Leaders, Tomorrow’s Technologies presented a panel of big thinkers who addressed issues ranging from the impact of the explosion of E-Reader options all the way to technologies that will revolutionize healthcare. In the middle of the E-Reader discussion, an important segue was taken, a discussion of the publishing world and its transition into the digital world.

Decentralized media needs to react to the creation of the decentralized sources upon which users can access it. This was the core message of comments panelist Colin Crawford, Founder and CEO of Media7, made as he discussed how the publishing industry could accomplish its transition from print to new media. Crawford noted that the time is now for content producers, specifically the publishing industry, to seize this unique moment where no one seems to have determined how the mobile market will be tapped into.

When commenting on whether publishers should look to technologists to solve their own problems, Crawford remarked, “Publishers need to solve their own problems.” While many in the publishers industry are hanging their future on technology, there is a need for the industry to recognize that have to create different forms of content for different devices. The desktop reader of the New York Times and the iPhone application user are not one in the same. Content for those on the go needs to be quick to access and effectively communicated. As Colin Crawford puts it, “The right content needs to be with you at the right time.”

Mobile devices have yet to see their full potential realized, whether its publishers trying to share content or government agencies reacting to the needs of their constituents. Mobile penetration worldwide speaks to the need for content to be developed that is user-friendly on these devices. Yet, as more people look towards mobile as a source for information delivery, new challenges are presented: mobile phones demand that content is personal.

The decentralization of news delivery also demand that content providers catch up in a world of search and social networking, two obstacles that seem to stand in the way of online success for publishers. Users today are able to zone in on precisely what information they need, and communities of interest grow increasingly smaller. For the publishing industry to keep pace with technology, the publishers that will be most likely to succeed are those who excel at information delivery in a particular niche.

The continuing problem for the giants of print media is that content is becoming more personal, and everyman can be a content producer. Panelist Dr. Levy Gertzberg, President of the Zoran Corporation, pulled out his Flip Mino HD video camera to illustrate to the audience how personal content creation can be these days. Easy-to-use and fairly inexpensive (around $200 for the MinoHD), Flip illustrates the virtues of mobility: shoot a video, plug the camera into your laptop’s USB drive and upload it instantly. It is mentality that publishers must adopt.

As Colin Crawford reminded the audience, the print model used to work well both in terms of user experience and as a business model. The new model, the mobile model, also has this potential. Between branded applications and microtargeting with mobile ads, the industry has the opportunity to remain viable through this second decade of the 21st century.


Ramon Nuez: Google is Going into the Electricity Business

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Google is one of the most successful company’s in US history. It began as a research project at Stanford University back in 1996. Larry Page who was later joined by Sergey Brin postulated that Internet search could be done better. Not only did Larry and Sergey succeed in making search better – they turned a thesis into a $22 billion company. Over its’ fourteen year history Google has entered a variety markets with products like Ad Words, Google News, Google Search Appliance and the Nexus One. Google, now, is getting into the electricity business.

In a press release on November 27, 2007 Google announced a strategic initiative to develop renewable energy. The initiative is called RE<C.

There has been tremendous work already on renewable energy. Technologies have been developed that can mature into industries capable of providing electricity cheaper than coal. Solar thermal technology, for example, provides a very plausible path to providing renewable energy cheaper than coal. We are also very interested in further developing other technologies that have potential to be cost-competitive and green. We are aware of several promising technologies, and believe there are many more out there.

-Larry Page

This past December Google submitted an application asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the authority to sell electricity at “market-based rate authority.” Google makes the argument that it wants to manage the enormous energy requirements of its’ data centers. That is a valid argument since it’ s rumored that Google has at least 12 data centers in the United States. I say “at least 12″ since Google keeps this information secrete.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the agency with jurisdiction over interstate electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural gas pricing and oil pipeline rates. They explain that it is not uncommon for a company the size of Google to make such a request. The FERC currently has granted 1500 companies the authority to sell electricity; at market-based rates. Google has requested that the FERC approve the application by February 23, 2010.

Now you won’t be getting your next electrical bill from Google. That will still come from your local utilities company. The authority Google is requesting is the ability to sell electricity wholesale. My educated guess is that Google will leverage this authority through RE<C and Google.org, to work with varies companies, universities and R&D laboratories – to produce various unsubsidized types of renewable energy.

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) explains that IT is a critical component to the information economy. IT over the past decade has grown at an exponential rate. To support this growth companies must build massive data centers; which consume great quantities of this country’s electricity.

Information technology and telecommunications facilities account for approximately 120 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually – or 3 percent of all U.S. electricity use. Moreover, rapid growth in the U.S. data center industry is projected to require two new large power plants per year just to keep pace with the expected demand growth. Without gains in efficiency, the industry would face increasing costs and greenhouse gas emissions, along with challenges to the reliability of the electricity service.

-United States Department of Energy

From what I understand Larry Page is truly concerned about Google’s carbon footprint. I had a conversation with a Google representative a few months ago and she explained that Google is the 4th largest computer manufacturer in the world. Combine that with its’ 12 data centers and Google stands to produce a massive amount of green house emissions; not to mention the monster electricity bill. It’s no wonder Larry wants to find renewable energy sources.

More on Billionaires


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CES: Katzenberg Optimistic For Prospects Of 3D TV

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

As the entertainment industry works increasingly hand in hand with technology companies in creating future media, its presence at CES this year is everywhere. In the following clip, Jeffrey Katzenber, CEO of Dreamworks Animation, talks at length of the tremendous potential for the future of 3D television, emerging first in video games and sports. He estimates that 10% of the TVs shipped this year will be 3D capable.

He goes on to note that despite the economy, box office sales are booming in markets such as China and Russia. This, in conjunction with the rise of 3D and animation factor in to his bullish outlook for the future of the entertainment industry.


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Disney’s first 3D Blu-ray release to hit in the fourth quarter

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Disney's A Christmas CarolYes you read that right, the studio with the most new 3D movies around isn’t going to release its first title until the fourth quarter of 2010. We’ve seen some cool 3D demos in past few days but lets face it, the technology is worthless without content. Now you might think that Disney would help launch 3D with a big hit like Toy Story 3, but you’d be wrong. No instead it’ll all get kicked off with Disney’s A Christmas Carol — no we’re not feeling it either. Disney is the third studio to announce 3D content that’ll be released this year, and although none of them are up our alley, we’re sure someone is excited to see them.

Continue reading Disney’s first 3D Blu-ray release to hit in the fourth quarter

Disney’s first 3D Blu-ray release to hit in the fourth quarter originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 07 Jan 2010 20:25:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Toshiba Satelitte E205 is first laptop with Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) technology

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Toshiba seems to be the first out the door with Intel’s just announced Wireless Display technology. Actually the $999 Satellite E205 seems like one big group hug between Intel, Toshiba and Best Buy. Exclusive to Best Buy and actually designed by those Best Buy customers (okay, they just gave Toshiba feedback), the 14-incher is powered by an Intel Core i5-430M processor and has a 320GB hard drive. But its most impressive spec is its Intel Wireless Display technology (or WiDi) which lets you wirelessly connect your laptop to your HDTV to stream video and audio with an HDMI adapter. Check back soon for a hands-on, but full specs after the break.

Continue reading Toshiba Satelitte E205 is first laptop with Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) technology

Toshiba Satelitte E205 is first laptop with Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) technology originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 07 Jan 2010 20:05:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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William Bradley: Doctor Who: The Long Goodbye

January 7th, 2010 admin No comments

“He will knock four times.”

And so, the finale for the great tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, came round at last. It was the end of a long goodbye, which itself was part of a long goodbye.

For those who have not seen it, there are spoilers ahead.

After something of an uncertain start in “The End of Time, Part 1,” the finale in “The End of Time, Part 2,” over New Year’s weekend, was much more assured.

Before dealing with the Doctor’s death — yes, he regenerates, but he regards it as the death of a self, namely his, referring to his regenerated self as “a new man” — let’s deal first with the storyline.

“He will knock four times.”

The Narrator, played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton, it swiftly turned out, was far more, the head of the Time Lords. Time-locked by their fellow Time Lord, the Doctor, for their atrocities at the end of their epic war with the Daleks, they sought a way out, finding it by causing the sound of drums to be permanently implanted in the mind of the young child who would become the Master. That enabled them to track him through time and space, finding him on Earth, manipulating him to use his powers and the technology he’d seized from the foolish billionaire who’d had him resuscitated in a harebrained scheme for immortality.

In the meantime, the Master has captured the Doctor and Wilf (81-year old Bernard Cribbins plays the sky-gazing grandfather of former companion Donna Noble; his character shares a bond with the Doctor), only to have them escape in comic fashion to the Vinvocci ship there in orbit above Earth to salvage the tech stolen by the billionaire. The Master, who has turned everyone else on Earth (besides Donna, who is immune since she’s part-Time Lord from the relaunched Season 4 finale, and Wilf, who was inside a special chamber) into a replica of himself — even Barack Obama! — turns all the resources of Earth to searching for the Doctor but cannot find him, as he’s shut down all systems on the ship.

The Doctor and Wilf — who has again been visited by the vision of the Woman in White, urging him to take up arms — have another heartfelt conversation. Wilf, like the Doctor, certain that the Master will be the cause of the Doctor’s prophesied death, urges him to take the old revolver he kept from his 1940s service with the British paratroopers. But the Doctor, who hates guns, will have none of it. Even if it means his death. Besides, he has nearly gotten through to the Master at the beginning of the episode, when he said it would be his honor to travel the universe at his side. Isn’t it enough to see the universe rather than try to own it, he’d argued. And the Master had seemed very intrigued, till the drumming in his head took over again.

The tenth Doctor begins his finale with a lighthearted attitude.

Then the Master broadcasts that the Time Lords are returning, which prompts the Doctor to return to Earth in a fun action sequence. The Doctor, who now takes Wilf’s old revolver from the paras, pilots the alien ship while Wilf and one of the Vinvocci — in a big nod to Star Wars — man the guns to shoot down the torrent of missiles that the Master unleashes against them. As the ship roars over the English mansion in which the Master is about to greet the return of the Time Lords, the Doctor leaps out, revolver in hand, and crashes through the skylight. Yet he’s too physically stunned to fire, and the Time Lords are arriving. Wilf, meanwhile, prevails upon the Vinvocci to land the ship so he can help the Doctor, only to flee at the Doctor’s suggestion, though into an isolation chamber to the Doctor’s dismay.

Along with the arrival of the Time Lords through an event horizon reaching into the mansion there is, overhead, the arrival of the massive Time Lord planet Gallifrey itself, which will clearly rip the Earth apart. Not that the Time Lords care, as their plan is to ascend beyond the physical plane of existence, and to hell with the billions of people on Earth, not to mention the trillions elsewhere who will perish as the space-time continuum is destroyed.

At first, the Doctor is bound to shoot Dalton’s Time Lord President, who chides him as a murderer at last. Then he thinks to shoot the Master, for the link is in his head. As the Master sadly realizes. Then he spies the Woman in White, immediately recognizing her (for I think she’s his mother) and she looks toward the contraption that facilitated the Time Lords’ arrival. Which he then destroys with a shot.

The Master rules the Earth in “The Last of the Time Lords.”

Dalton’s President makes ready to kill the Doctor as he and his cohort begin to recede back into the Time Lock, but the Master, angry at having been manipulated through his life, and more than a little sympathetic to the Doctor, attacks him with energy bolts. The President falls, the Time Lords and Gallifrey fall back into the Time Lock, and the Master disappears.

The epic crisis has been weathered and overcome, and the show is only two-thirds through. Roll credits? Sadly, no.

Relieved to see that he has survived, contrary to his understanding of the prophecy seemingly linked to the four-fold drumbeat in the Master’s head, feeling increasingly confident, the Doctor looks around as the musical score swells and then plunges as he hears a quiet knocking sound. Four knocks. And again, four knocks.

It’s Wilf, knocking on the glass of the isolation chamber. He’d like the Doctor to let him out. But to do that, the Doctor must enter the chamber himself and let Wilf out, and in so doing take a massive dose of radiation.

Fond as he is of Wilf, the Doctor rages at first against this monstrous irony, and at Wilf, at first seeming to agree with Wilf that he should leave him to his fate inside that chamber he never should have entered in the first place. But he can’t, in the end, leave Wilf to die, so he enters it, freeing Wilf, taking what both believe will be a a highly lethal dose of radiation.

The original 1963 theme for Doctor Who.

When he emerges, the Doctor seems fine. But then his wounds of battle fade and, despite Wilf’s enthusiasm, it’s clear to the Doctor that the regeneration is beginning. He takes Wilf home in the Tardis and, telling him he will see him one more time, sets off on what he calls his “reward.”

And what is his reward? His reward is a reward for Doctor Who fans as well as the Doctor, for he is off on a sentimental journey, seeing important people in his life one last time before his regeneration into the eleventh incarnation.

He sees former companion Martha Jones and Mickey, who began as Rose Tyler’s feckless boyfriend and became much more. And Captain Jack Harkness, the intergalactic con man-turned-immortal, chief of the new Torchwood. (Torchwood, of course, being the arguably more adult spin-off of Doctor Who, name of the Torchwood Institute established by Queen Victoria to combat extraterrestrial menaces, and, originally in the real world, an anagram used to hide production of Doctor Who.) And Wilfred and his daughter, with Donna in the near distance. And the great granddaughter of Joan Redfern. And, finally, inevitably, Rose.

Martha, looking smashing if hard-edged in black leather, and Mickey are on the run, hunting and being hunted by a rogue Sontaran. They are also, surprise, married. And, unknown to them, about to be shot by that self-same Sontaran. Till the Doctor knocks him cold. Martha and Mickey see the Doctor, staring at them, perhaps disapproving. Then he goes.

In another nod to Star Wars, the Doctor finds longtime associate Captain Jack in a Whovian version of the Star Wars bar scene. Jack is drowning his sorrows, still recovering from the shattering events of Torchwood’s excellent “Children of Earth” miniseries. He gets a note from the Doctor, standing at the other end of the bar. The note contains the name of the man next to Jack, the young ensign from Who’s “Voyage of the Damned” Christmas special two years ago. Jack, ostensibly omnisexual but really a gay character, salutes the Doctor and chats the young fellow up.

The Doctor next arrives outside a large church. It’s Donna’s wedding day. He still can’t see her, as it might bring her memories flooding back and burn up her mind, but he can and does see Wilf and and his daughter, Donna’s mother. Wilf is, naturally, delighted. Even more so when the Doctor presents a lottery ticket for Donna’s wedding present, purchased with a loan from Donna’s late father.

Next the Doctor is in a book store where an author is signing copies of her book. Someone we haven’t met but who looks familiar named Verity Newman is signing copies of her book, A Journal of Impossible Things, based on a journal owned by her great grandmother, Joan Redfern. Joan was the nurse in 1913 England that the Doctor, living as a human to try to avoid a confrontation which can’t be avoided, fell in love with. (Verity Newman is named after Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, the first producers of Doctor Who, back in 1963.) The journal of his dreams belonged to the man Joan knew as John Smith, and Verity has written a book based on it. The Doctor wants to know if Joan was happy in the end. She was.

The Doctor and Rose say goodbye at Bad Wolf Bay in the Season 2 finale.

Finally, the Doctor goes to London in January 2005. It’s right after the New Year and he’s watching, only watching, someone he’s not yet met at that point. It’s Rose, his former companion and lost love. He’s failing now, and standing in the shadows as she passes by, coughs and staggers a bit, drawing her attention. He tells her she’s going to have a great year ahead, for it’s the year she meets him, albeit in his earlier ninth Doctor incarnation, none of which he says. She’s fresh, bright, and charming, and clearly ready for the adventures she’s about to encounter. She disappears into her building with a final smile.

Is it all quite sentimental? Yes, highly so. And wonderful nonetheless.

And now it’s time. An Ood appears in the street before the Doctor, telling him that his people will sing him to his sleep. The Doctor enters the Tardis, which sails into space above the Earth. He cries out that he doesn’t want to go. He’s not going quietly, there’s no peaceful acceptance of the inevitable, or British stoicism. He’s angry, frightened even. There’s much more he wants to do. And the regeneration comes on.

It’s violent this time, perhaps because of the radiation he’s carried within. Actually, it’s like the quickening in Highlander, a light show with crackling energy pouring out of him, causing explosions. David Tennant’s face disappears in the flow of energy and becomes that of Matt Smith.

The eleventh Doctor has arrived. He’s younger, confused and excited all at once as he grasps what has happened to him and is happening now. The violence of his regeneration has shattered the Tardis’s systems. The little blue police box, that old-style phone booth that is so much bigger on the inside is hurtling downward toward the Earth, crashing.

The new Doctor is thrilled. He shouts out: “Geronimo!” Clearly the Doctor has a new catchphrase to replace the tenth Doctor’s “Allons-y.”

And the episode is done.

“Allons-y,” incidentally, is French for “Let’s go.” “Geronimo!” is something frequently shouted as one takes a great leap. It comes from the American paratrooper tradition, inspired seven decades ago by a Western film about the great Indian chief.

What to make of the farewell of the tenth Doctor, played with such verve and grace by David Tennant, probably the most popular of all the Doctors?

Well, it wasn’t brief. But for all its drawn out nature, it was in many ways so much the better. Tennant is so good in the part that it’s sad to see him go.

In a real sense, the tenth Doctor’s finale has been going on for more than a year, even longer than the ending(s) of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

After taking over from the very fine Christopher Eccleston, who relaunched the series as the Doctor with writer/producer Russell T. Davies at the helm, Tennant had three full seasons (the Brits call them series), and another year of specials. The latter because he took to playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, a filmed version of which also aired on the BBC during the holidays.

He could have had his finale with the end of his third season, in a three-episode arc with a conclusion aptly titled “Journey’s End.” All his companions joined together, in a frankly overly complex plot, to help him fight a threat to “reality itself.” And the Doctor was shot and nearly died/regenerated. Yet he continued on, this time alone — with latest companion Donna returned home with memory wiped to avoid her own demise — through five more special episodes.

In 2008’s Christmas special, “The Next Doctor,” he went to Victorian London at Christmas time, only to be caught up in a wild adventure involving another fellow who believes himself to be the Doctor. (And who was naturally teased as Tennant’s replacement.) An air of melancholy sets in amidst the picture perfect Christmas setting as we learn why this man has come to believe he is the Doctor. And again as the Doctor refuses, at first, to share a Christmas dinner, preferring his growing loneliness.

For Easter 2009, the Doctor, again traveling alone in the Tardis, had a rather madcap adventure involving a red London double-decker bus, a desert planet, and an aristocratic young cat burglar. A perfect companion for the Doctor, actually, in the form of Michelle Ryan (who clicked in a way she did not as American TV’s Bionic Woman). Yet, despite their chemistry and good teamwork, the Doctor turns down her request to “Show me the stars.” He’s lost too much with previous companions, and doesn’t want to risk having his heart broken again. And as this rather picaresque adventure ends, with Lady Christina driving off into the sky, an air of foreboding as a woman tells the Doctor, like the Ood two years earlier, that his “song is ending.” And then: “It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor … Oh, but then … He will knock four times.”

David Tennant is Catherine Tate’s English teacher, two years ago for Comic Relief.

November’s special, “The Waters of Mars,” found the increasingly melancholy Doctor on Mars on a very special day in history, that of the mysterious destruction of humanity’s first Mars base. He sees the onrushing doom, keeps saying he has to leave what is “a fixed point in time,” which he dare not change. But in the end, he snaps and goes back and saves people who were supposed to have died, a pair of “little people,” as now arrogantly he calls them, and one decidedly not, one of the most famous women in history, the Mars base commander, whose death inspires her granddaughter to pilot the first interstellar mission.

There is a cost, a terrible one, and a terrible lesson, and by the end the Ood are there on a snowy London street, with the Doctor saying he’s gone too far, wondering if it’s his time to die.

Then of course we’re to “The End of Time,” and the great misdirection move that is the return of John Simm as the Master. As a political writer, I loved Simm as the manic politician who tricks the voters into making him prime minister of Britain. His performance then was operatic, as it is here. If he hadn’t been made insane as a gambit by the leader of the Time Lords, he could have been a great ally of the Doctor’s, rather than his nemesis. Which is only part of the pathos of this ending.

“The End of Time, Part Two,” which got predictably high yet non-record ratings in Britain, set a record for BBC America getting a total of 1.47 million viewers over the three weekend airings on the channel. This is the largest audience ever for a show on BBC America, beating “The Waters of Mars,” which was shown just before Christmas.

So we know there is a large and, at least in America and probably elsewhere, growing audience for Doctor Who with David Tennant. But for the eleventh Doctor, played by relative unknown Matt Smith? We don’t know.

Here is the new Doctor.

His beginning seemed fine, if necessarily brief. He’s in his late twenties, to Tennant’s late thirties, and we know that his first companion is played by a 21-year old redhead who looks like a teen.

Of course, the Doctor can be any age, so long as he has the spirit and intellect of the thing.

New showrunner Steven Moffat has written some of new Who’s best episodes, winning three Hugo Awards in a row for such classics as “The Girl In the Fireplace” and “Blink.” His temperament is rather darker than that of Russell T. Davies, who re-launched Doctor Who with a certain splashy ebullience that sought to overcome lapses in logic with dash and energy. And usually worked well at that.

“Don’t blink!”

Davies will run the new season of Torchwood, after his own highly successful walk in the dark with the last year’s brilliant “Children of Earth” miniseries.

And Moffat is likely to embrace the verve as well as the vicious in his version of the show. The eleventh Doctor’s energetic new catchphrase “Geronimo!,” along with glimpses of him in preview footage as something of an action hero indicate that the show won’t be all intellect. And composer Murray Gold is staying on. He’s contributed much of new Who’s sense of splash-and-dash, as well the hearts-on-sleeves quality of much of show with the tenth Doctor.

The science part of the science fiction was never the strength of the Davies-helmed new Who. Tennant’s tenth Doctor sometimes waved off an expected wave of Star Trek-style technospeak either with a bit of inspired babbling or with a humorously dismissive “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” non-explanation.

David Tennant’s farewell to Doctor Who.

Davies’ Doctor Who excelled not so much as accurate scifi as emotional storytelling within a science fiction frame.

With Tennant as his Doctor, he had someone with crackling energy, a lover of life who pursued his immense curiosity with the enthusiasm of a child. And an actor who also explored what it might be like to be a 900-year old being who travels constantly across time and space, exploring, winning and losing, his two hearts bursting and breaking along the way.

Someone who, himself homeless with the loss of Gallifrey, adopted Earth as his home away from home, revering humanity with all its pinnacles and pitfalls.

This is why this Doctor clings to this life, though he knows he will regenerate. This is why, to borrow from Dylan Thomas, he does not go gentle into that good night, and, instead, burns and raves at close of day as he rages against the dying of the light.

This Doctor’s journey has ended, and those of us who have watched it unfold, imperfect as it has been at times, are the better for it.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Fact-Checking the Sunday Talk Show Circuit?

January 5th, 2010 admin No comments

A couple of wild and crazy ideas for holding politicians and pundits accountable for the crap they peddle on the Sunday talk show circuit:

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted an idea about improving the Sunday morning talk shows. He says the programs, rather than letting politicians get away with distortions, should offer an online fact check each week of exaggerations and lies. For the guests, says Rosen, the format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse, but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice. I happen to think that makes a lot of sense toward holding officials accountable.

Or:

Naked assertions from politicians are the stuff of these shows. Why can’t some of them be checked in real time? Surely it’s possible to have a small army of fact-checkers at the ready during the broadcasts of these shows. Network news divisions already employ reporters and researchers (all of whom are likely passively watching their network’s program anyway) who can be deployed to assist the overall journalistic enterprise. Moreover, I’m reliably informed that technology now allows for people to send “instant messages” to one another. Why not use it? Why not open up these lines of communication between the backroom and the moderator, and bring the full force of a news gathering organization to bear as the cameras roll live?

Personally, I prefer the second option — call these people out in real time.

But I won’t hold my breath for either option to be implemented. After all, if today’s television “journalists” didn’t allow their guests to spew their garbage on Sunday, what would they have to breathlessly report on for the rest of the week?


Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

The Year Of Health And Politics

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

No, this isn’t yet another Top 10 list. But looking back at 2009, I do think it’s worth looking at a few of the major health stories we covered here.

One thing I won’t list is the efforts on the health reform bills currently making their laborious way through Congress. It was one of the most important health stories of the year, but we don’t have an ending for it yet.

The other health story of the year, and no surprise to anyone who reads Daily Kos regularly, was the 2009 H1N1 (aka swine flu pandemic), the first in 41 years. Oh, it’s not just me saying so. It’s also HealthDay, CNN, and news editors in Canada:

The H1N1 virus was the top Canadian news story of 2009, according to 70 per cent of the country’s editors and news directors in The Canadian Press’s annual survey of newsrooms.

“It was a coast-to-coast story that people followed with interest no matter where they lived in Canada,” said Lesley Sheppard, managing editor of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, in Moose Jaw, Sask.

But equally important, especially for the contrast and the long term implications was this story: On Cancer Screening, Politics, and Communication. As I wrote on the Arena today:

This past year has two particular health stories outside of the health reform efforts: pandemic (excellent reviews by the bloggers and the press) and mammogram guidelines. Both have deep implications for how our health system functions. But the most interesting observation is how the former (pandemic preparedness) has thankfully not been politicized. Alas, the same cannot be true for the latter. Despite that, evidence based medicine and the need to establish guidelines for what works and what does not are essential to health quality improvements as well as cost control (doing well by doing good), and good sense will prevail. All political parties and persuasions should be pushing for that, and in the end, we will adopt evidence based medicine and improve the system in the next year and years to come.

I want to highlight some of the work done at Flu Wiki by our volunteer bloggers and newshounds, who chase down stories from all over the world, but I also want to point out this excellent summary of how the pandemic seemed to those who were looking for it to happen (Real-world lessons learned.)

Interestingly, in his year-end summary, Donald McNeil writing for the NY Times notes some things that were tough decisions, but decisions that panned out:

…the relatively cautious decisions by the nation’s medical leadership contained the pandemic with minimal disruption to the economy.

For example, in the early days, they ignored advice to close the Mexican border and pre-emptively shut school systems. They released part of the national Tamiflu stockpile, but did not give it to millions of healthy people prophylactically, as Britain did. They ordered vaccine made with a 50-year-old egg technology rather than experimental methods. They bought adjuvants — chemical “boosters” — that could have stretched the first 25 million vaccine doses into 100 million, but did not use them for fear of triggering a backlash among Americans made nervous by the messages of the antivaccine movement.

To alert the public without alarming it, a stream of officials — from doctors in the navy blue and scrambled-eggs gold of the Public Health Service to a somber President Obama in the White House — offered updates, at least twice a week for months.

But the last paragraph is the important one:  

Dr. Frieden said he thought a victory over the antivaccine movement had been scored. Nearly 60 million people have been vaccinated, including many pregnant women and children, with no surge in side effects.

John P. Moore, an AIDS researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College, was less sure. Dr. Moore, who spent years fighting AIDS denialism, has called skepticism about flu vaccine “an unholy alliance of the left and right” because it joined the liberal natural-medicine proponents with anti-big-government conservatives.

“It’s hard to say if it hurt or helped,” Dr. Moore said, pointing out that polls still show a large minority of Americans rejecting the vaccine. “As with AIDS, people have to die before others understand the consequences of ignoring science-based medicine.”

Dr. Frieden is, alas, wrong, if he thinks facts will simply trump opinion, at least not without effort. Only day to day discussions in doctors offices and by officials on a recurring basis will fight the well-funded anti-vax misinformation machine. Well informed people have the right to be skeptics, but the organized for-pay misinformers do us all a disservice, particularly high risk patients who need their vaccines. This one was a publicly paid for vax, no extra charge, but the billions invested in novel manufacturing techniques are yet to pay off, though they are getting closer to reaching fruition.

Was this a less than feared outbreak? Absolutely, though it hit children especially hard. H5N1 (bird flu) is the mother of all flu strains (greater than 60% mortality at the moment), and worse things than swine flu are still out there. But complaints about hurricane warnings because the storm wasn’t as bad as feared are equally misplaced. Well, at least those that deny the possibility of pandemics have been quiet for a few months (don’t count on it lasting any longer than that.)

As for mammograms and guidelines, nothing highlights the dangers of politicizing medicine like that topic does. But what’s important is the concept that everything we do in medicine is right because it’s the US and we do everything best. This “medical exceptionalism”, as highlighted by National Geographic with their “cost of care” graphic, is simply not true.

The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones. Lack of health insurance is a factor in life span and contributes to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year. Why the high cost? The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn’t reliably improve a patient’s health. Says Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies health insurance worldwide, “More care does not necessarily mean better care.”

But how do we get control of costs? By not spending it on things that don’t work, just because we always have. That means taking hard looks at futile end of life care, looking at cheaper ways to do things (like importing drugs from Canada), relying less on antibiotics that are inappropriately used. In other words, using evidence based medicine to determine what works and what does not (P.S., vaccines work and are very cost effective.) That’s exactly what the new mammogram guidelines do: suggest recommendations based on currently available data, even as they ruffle entrenched interests and entrenched thinking.

The reaction and blow back, which has been considerable, are less aimed at the actual guidelines (”talk to your doctor if you are woman under 50, because we really do not know what’s best”) than the way they were presented (somewhat naively in the midst of health reform debate, immediately hijacked by the “death panel” faction of the Know Nothing Party.) But if you really are serious about quality improvement and cost control, task forces like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are essential in sorting through facts and opinion. And the more the process is politicized, the worse the country is served.

Don’t expect that to change any time soon. But serious health reform proposals will incorporate evidence based medicine to enrich and improve our lives. And get used to being challenged about what you think you know. That’s going to become an everyday part of our lives.