Wednesday, 17 December 2003


Jacob Levy says pretty much everything I had to say about the French government’s decision to go ahead with efforts to ban the display of religious symbols by students in public schools.

Russell Fox is none to impressed by the proposal either.

Party with Dean

James Joyner has some thoughts on a Mickey Kaus blog entry exploring the possibility of a third party run by Howard Dean if he doesn’t win the nomination. I honestly don’t think that is likely, or even logistically possible. The two major parties, while at their institutionally weakest state in modern history, still serve an important gatekeeping function in our system; while it’s arguably harder to win a major-party nomination than to gain ballot access on a third-party ticket, the reward of the major-party nomination is the virtually automatic vote of more than 30% of the electorate.

That is not to say that to win the nomination, candidates have to appeal directly to the party base. Registration rules in most states are now weak to nonexistent (part of a 100-year trend started by the “progressive” reforms that reflected a belief in a Tocquevillian ideal of a well-informed rational public rather than the reality of widespread political ignorance) and increased soft money regulations have meant an end to the financial ties between parties and candidates. Instead, the successful candidate in a large field can simply recruit disaffected apartisan ideologues* to his cause and use their support to create an air of inevitability around his campaign to recruit the support of institutional loyalists—the “true partisans,” if you will.

However, Kaus’ belief that we’ll see a breakdown of the two existing parties, at least on the ballot, is at best misguided. There are thousands of Democratic and Republican state legislators who would have to be convinced to remove the existing institutional advantages of their own parties to open the door for a new third party, while the idea of separate parties competing at the presidential level than in other elections seems a tad absurd (I could see separate parties at the state and national levels, but that’s not the same thing, really). There’s enough value attached to the Republican and Democratic labels that it’s likely we’ll see candidates fight over them long after the institutions they represent have been further eviscerated by further campaign finance “reform” and the continued march of the “progressive” legacy.

By the way, I hope some political scientist out there is doing a study of Dean activists, if only so I can steal borrow their data and test some of the hypotheses floating around in my head about them…


Mike of Half-Bakered is soliciting suggestions for a location and date for the first Memphis-area bloggers’ bash. Go forth and comment accordingly.

Belated Galactica thoughts

My (quite possibly now-irrelevant) thoughts on the SciFi Battlestar Galactica mini-series produced by Ron Moore (warning, no spoiler protection):

  • As others have noted, the pacing was a tad too slow in Part One. Part of the problem is that you’ve got to set up this BG universe and let us know how it’s similar to—and different from—the BG universe we vaguely recall Lorne Greene having something to do with. Part Two worked much better.
  • I think making the BG society seem a lot like ours except the higher technology is pretty sound. It certainly beats the “everyone wears lycra” approach of Trek.
  • The “Number Six kills a baby” bit was completely gratuitous. Plus, it was distracting in this scene that the Capricans seemed to have taken over Tollana. The obvious conclusion is that the twelve colonies are populated by Gou‘ald. (Sorry, Stargate SG-1 joke.)
  • It’d have been nice to see some of the colonies other than Caprica. Some of the exposition could have been handled that way, too.
  • I’ve seen the criticism that a society that is spacefaring should have eliminated cancer. The logic of this statement escapes me completely. Curing cancer and traveling faster than the speed of light seem to be rather orthogonal problems to solve.
  • FTL travel in the BG universe is seems similar to how true FTL travel works in Asimov’s Foundation/Empire/Nemesis universe; however, there seems to be some spatial (or temporal?) distortion attached to it, if the camera foreshortening effect is to be believed as a representation of the reality perceived inside the ship.

Now, the open questions file:

  • What happened to Kobol that made humans settle the twelve colonies? There was a (not entirely satisfactory) answer in the original BG universe.
  • Does Earth actually exist? If so, is it really the 13th colony, or something different? (If life began “out there,” perhaps humans from Earth settled Kobol. This gets around the silly “Earth was settled by spacemen” concept. Plus it means that if they find Earth, it might actually be a useful ally against the Cylons.)
  • Are there alien species? The original BG universe said yes, but never showed them: the creators of the Cylons were alien, as were some species the Cylons had killed off—the planet in “Living Legend” was originally home to a non-human species.
  • Interestingly, everyone who is obsessed with sex turns out to be a Cylon, while the people who aren’t getting any are human. Is this deliberate?
  • Is the “Number Six” in Baltar’s head real? Judging from the evidence, I think not; rather, it seems to be an “anti-conscience” of a sort. The real Number Six probably wouldn’t have allowed Baltar to pick out Aaron Doral, the PR guy (who for some reason reminded me of Mollem from SG-1, but isn’t the same actor) who is a Cylon; would have known what the “personal organizer” was; and would have impeded the investigation of the dead Cylon (Leoben Conoy) from the space station more thoroughly. Plus, she probably couldn’t have communicated with Baltar in the storm at Ragnar Anchorage, and on Colonial One she seems to indirectly call Baltar “God,” which makes more sense in terms of Baltar’s ego than Cylon religious beliefs.
  • Are Cylons really reincarnated when they die in new bodies? Number Six and Conoy apparently think so, but if the Number Six in Baltar’s head isn’t real we have zero evidence of this. Is this just a religious belief?
  • Are there really just 12 designs of humanoid Cylon? If so, why? There are obviously more than 12 individual humanoid Cylons. (We’ve seen 4 designs: Six, Leoben, Aaron, and Boomer.) How do they tell each other apart? And does the 12 number only include humanoids, or do the metal ones count too? And why did the Cylons decide to make humanoid models?
  • Did Baltar really figure out Aaron’s complicity in the Cylon attack? He turns out to be right, but why? The “Cylon detector” was apparently bullshit, if we believe Baltar’s mannerisms and “Number Six.” There’s no way Baltar knew that Adama already somewhat distrusted Aaron because of his interest in getting the Galactica outfitted with a computer network.
  • The shielding on the Galactica seems to protect Cylons from the Ragnar radiation; the ship was apparently in the radiation field for hours, yet Boomer showed no ill effects and Aaron only was affected after he got ditched on the station.
  • Who left the “there are only twelve models” note for Adama? Baltar is the only human with the knowledge that we know of. But there might be others. There might also be Cylons working against the Cylon plans. Then again, Baltar may not want to explain how he knows there are only 12 models.

Overall, I think it was a very good outing by Moore. Hopefully he’ll have the chance to make it into a series starting in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Stinson posted his thoughts more contemporaneously.

Photoshopping Saddam