SciFi Friday: Cast Changes From Boston Legal to 24, Harry Potter Hacked, and Upcoming Shows

This week there’s a lot of news about casting, including characters coming back to shows next season and characters who are leaving.

While some shows such as Battlestar Galactica, 24, Lost, Jericho and will wait until mid season to start, Heroes is going the reverse route. They are going to end early, after a full twenty-four episode run, in order to show the Origins anthology series. This will run for six weeks from mid-April thru May and feature a different new superhero each week. Tim Kring has also stated that, while there will be breaks between new episodes, there will not be a long break as there was last year.

There has been no official announcement as to who will be back, but blogs covering the press conference have provided some hints. Greg Grunberg (Matt) let it slip out that he’s back at work on filming the second season. Hiro is returning, and will remain in feudal Japan for several episodes. The Petrelli brothers look different after that explosion. Milo Ventimiglia’s hair is extremely short, and Adrian Pasdar has grown a beard.

There will be major cast changes on 24, which no longer will take place at CTU in Los Angeles. Besides Kiefer Sutherland, it is possible that only Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) will return, but once again the President will play a part in the plot. Ausiello reports that there will be a new President who might be a woman.

Boston Legal also plans major casting changes, and will be down to only one former Star Trek character in the regular cast. Rene Auberjonois (Odo of Deep Space Nine) will be leaving, along with Mark Valley,Julie Bowen, and Constance Zimmer. As has happened in past seasons, some of these may return for an occasional episode. John Larroquette and Tara Summers will be joining the cast . Christian Clemenson (Jerry Esperson) will be made a regular member of the cast.

Looking ahead, this weekend we will finally see what Mr. Saxon is up to in England on Doctor Who. I previously reviewed last weeks episode, Utopia, here. The episode was not as good as the previous three episodes, but it would have been difficult to sustain that quality. Although the show initially seemed like a run of the mill episode (except for the return of Captain Jack), the payoff at the end turned it into another excellent episode. With this one as a start, it appears that Doctor Who is set to end the season with a strong two part follow up.

For those who haven’t seen it, Jericho will be replayed starting July 6. They will show the first episode, a mid-season recap episode, and then episodes 13-22. If you plan to start watching the show, I’d suggest catching the first twelve episodes which are available for view on line. While the later ones pick up the story leading to the season finale, in many ways the earlier episode which dealt with more day to day life were better.

The creators of the Masters of Horror series on Showtime are making Masters of Sci-Fi which will be an anthology series written by science fiction authors. ABC has ordered six episodes but currently only plans to show four starting in August. They are scheduled to air at 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, which doesn’t give the show a very good chance.

While there’s little to watch on television until fall, there’s always plenty to read. It’s not long until the final Harry Potter book is released. Despite all the security surrounding the book, a hacker claims to have hacked into her publisher’s computer and obtained a copy. He has posted what he says are key plot points. Of course we have no way to know if they are accurate, and even if they are I wouldn’t want to spoil the end of both the novel and the series. As curious as we are, I would think that most fans would prefer to find out how it ends as we read the book.

Dick Cheney’s Extraordinary Powers Under the Conservative Constitution

Normally the Vice President has limited powers and it depends upon his relationship with the President as to whether he can do much of anything at all. During the Bush/Cheney years it has often been joked that Dick Cheney was really the one in control. Little did we know that Cheney really thought his office had special powers and is outside of the Executive Branch.

The Los Angeles Times provides background, noting that Cheney has claimed that his office has held a special position for quite some time:

For the last four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has made the controversial claim that his office is not fully part of the Bush administration in order to exempt it from a presidential order regulating federal agencies’ handling of classified national security information, officials said Thursday.

Cheney has held that his office is not fully part of the executive branch of government despite the continued objections of the National Archives, which says his office’s failure to demonstrate that it has proper security safeguards in place could jeopardize the government’s top secrets.

According to documents released Thursday by a House committee, Cheney’s staff has blocked efforts by the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office to enforce a key component of the presidential order: a mandatory on-site inspection of the vice president’s office. At least one of those inspections would have come at a particularly delicate time — when Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and other aides were under criminal investigation for their suspected roles in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame…

One Cheney staffer familiar with the matter said Thursday that the vice president has not complied with the order because his office has dual functions: It is part of the executive branch — the Bush administration — but also part of the legislative branch, given Cheney’s position as president of the Senate.

As such, the vice president’s office has no legal obligation to abide by the order because it only applies to the executive branch, said the Cheney staffer, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the inner workings of the office and requested anonymity.

Cheney’s position is articulated in the 2004 edition of an annual government directory of senior officials known as the Plum Book:

“The vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The vice presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch … and in the executive branch.”

While there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about this the last two days, this was not really news. I recalled reading that Cheney was making the same claims earlier in the year. While I’m not certain if this was the original source, a Google search for “cheney vice president separate branch” had a post from Talking Points Memo pop up on top. Josh Marshall reported on these claims in February, complete with a link to the Plum Book.

Perhaps somebody should send Dick Cheney a copy of the Constitution. Steve Benen notes that this is all a part of a trend where some conservatives live in an alternate reality where the Constitution has a different meaning than that intended by the founding fathers. Steve provides separation of church and state as one example where the Conservative Constitution is different from the Constitution of the United States. I’d provide yet another. In their Constitution the Bill of Rights is limited to the Second Amendment and the other nine do not exist.

On Abortion: Place Rights Above Politics

Tristero reminds readers that the alternative to legalized abortion is not the abolition of abortions but a return to shirt hanger abortions. This comes in response to an op-ed by Melinda Henneberger claiming that abortion was the reason women voters left the Democratic Party.

Contrary to Henneberger’s arguments, I still see the “security mom” argument as more probable. This explains why so many voted for Bush in 2004 following a wave of Republican propaganda to take advantage of 9/11, followed by heavy losses among Republicans in 2006 when more people saw through the false claims.

Even if I’m wrong and the Democrats did lose a significant number of voters due to their support of abortion rights, that really does not change a thing. Defending the right of women to control their bodies is a fundamental right, defense of which should never be dropped out of political expediency.

Sicko May Have Political Impact But Goes Further Than Democratic Candidates

Reports on the opening of Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko have different takes on the movie. ABC News does briefly note some of the criticism, as well as the fact that no Republicans attended the opening, but takes an optimistic tone that the movie might influence health care legislation:

Moore joined Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who are co-sponsoring legislation that would create a comprehensive, publicly financed national health insurance program covering everything from dental to emergency care by the physician of the individual’s choice.

“This is not a political issue,” Moore said. “I can’t imagine anyone that doesn’t believe that every American has the human right that when they get sick they have the right to go to a doctor and not have to worry about whether or not they can afford it.”

The Los Angeles Times, however, sees Sicko as potentially creating political problems for Democrats as their health care proposals do not go as far as Moore (as I previously discussed here).

With the release of Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” a movie once again is adding sizzle to an issue that’s a high priority for liberal politicians — this time comprehensive health insurance for all. But unlike Al Gore’s film on global warming, which helped rally support on an equally controversial problem, “Sicko” is creating an awkward situation for the leading Democratic presidential candidates.

Rejecting Moore’s prescription on healthcare could alienate liberal activists, who will play a big role in choosing the party’s next standard-bearer. However, his proposal — wiping out private health insurance and replacing it with a massive federal program — could be political poison with the larger electorate…

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina all have staked out positions sharply at odds with Moore’s approach. But none of them is eager to have that fact dragged into the spotlight.

If Moore’s fire-breathing proposal catches on among party activists, who tend to be suspicious of the private sector and supportive of direct government action, the candidates’ pragmatic, consensus-seeking ideas could look like weak-kneed temporizing — much the way their rejection of an immediate pullout from Iraq has drawn heated criticism from antiwar activists.

In “Sicko,” the filmmaker calls for abolishing the insurance industry, putting a tight regulatory collar on pharmaceutical companies and embracing a Canadian-style government-run system.

I have previously posted a review of Sicko, along with a preview, here.

Bush Falls To New Low in ARG Poll–Will He Fall Below Truman’s Low?

In case anyone didn’t believe yesterday’s Newsweek poll that Bush as fallen to a new low, he has done the same in an American Research Group poll. Bush’s approval is currently at 27%, down from 31% in May. In the previous poll, Robert Stein commented that Bush is in danger of falling to the levels of Harry Truman, and discusses this further at his blog. (I figure that an ocassional writer at The Democratic Daily who periodically comments here without adopting their smear tactics deserves a real link besides the one in his comment.)

Gore 2000 Staff Available Should He Decide to Run

The Gore watch continues, today from The Hill which reports that many members of his 2000 team are still uncommitted. This includes campaign manager Donna Brazile, policy director Elaine Kamarck, media strategist Tad Devine, traveling chief of staff Michael Feldman, spokesmen Chris Lehane and Jano Cabrera, and strategists Bob Shrum, Michael Whouley and Monica Dixon.

Many of those who spoke with The Hill gave reasons for not getting involved in the primary race and many stated that they do not expect Gore to run. Most of them also remained out of the 2004 race, while Shrum and Whouley did get involved due to connections to John Kerry. The article really says nothing to answer the question of whether Gore will  run. It is of interest that, should he decide to run, he has potential staff available, giving him the freedom to wait to see how the race shapes up to decide. There is also the question, considering the problems in the 2000 campaign, of whether he would be best off with his old staffers should he run again.

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PBS Kicks Hole In Wall of Separation of Church and State

PBS is determined to prove that those who claim it has a liberal bias are wrong by airing a revisionist look at separation of church and state in America. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken a close look at those behind the film:

So Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others among the nation’s founders didn’t intend a “religiously pluralistic culture guided by a secular government”? That’s totally wrong and very much in keeping with the Religious Right’s spin on America’s founding.

We at Americans United did a little research on Boulevard Pictures, and here’s what we found. Although the Web site for the film company mentions no religious or political agenda, its president is Jack Hafer, an evangelical Christian who told one interviewer that Christians have an obligation to “shape the culture” and “spread the faith.” He urged Christian young people to go into the arts as “kingdom-spreaders” and as “a form of missionary service.”

That doesn’t sound too bad. Christians have a right to proselytize. But I don’t usually expect to see proselytism on PBS.

And then there’s Brian Godawa, the writer and director of “The Wall of Separation,” who is an even more interesting character. Godawa did movie reviews for a time for the Chalcedon Foundation’s Web site. Those of you who follow religion and politics will recognize Chalcedon as the nerve center of Christian Reconstructionism, the most militant wing of the Religious Right. Godawa also was a featured speaker at the American Vision’s “2006 Worldview Super Conference,” a Reconstructionist event.

Reconstructionists detest democracy and hope to usher in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America based on their reading of biblical law. They are best known for seeking to impose the harshest penalties of the Old Testament penal code: the death penalty, for example, for gays, adulterers, fornicators, witches, incorrigible teenagers and those who spread false religions.

I don’t know if Godawa calls himself a Reconstructionist – his reviews have been removed from Chalcedon’s Web site — but his perspective is definitely pretty far out.

His Chalcedon review of the critically acclaimed movie, “Brokeback Mountain,” calls it “a brilliant piece of subversive homosexual propaganda.” By depicting gay men as “manly” instead of “fey queens,” he said, “It’s the normalization of the freakish minority.” He charged that “homosexualism” is “an ideology and religion whose goal is to overthrow the Christian paradigm of morality.”

Godawa added, “Society SHOULD suppress immoral behavior and it does so on many fronts. So if homosexualism is immoral, then yes, it should be suppressed, just like child molesting, its ugly step-brother hidden in the closet, just like adultery, just like promiscuity.”

Tell us what you really think, Brian!

Godawa praised Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and urged Christians to see the movie in droves in the first two weeks – “Don’t go by yourself, get a group of friends. And don’t go just once, go twice.”– so other studios would “sit up and take notice.”

He dismissed criticism of the film’s anti-Semitic undercurrent. “[T]he accusations are vacuous,” he said. “In fact, they are more revealing of the attackers’ state of the heart than the filmaker’s work of art.” He blasted as “slanderous” the criticism from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League that the film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as responsible for the decision to crucify of Jesus.

Gee, I wasn’t the only one to criticize Mel Gibson, and we see more of the type of people who defend him and deny the anti-Semitism in his work.

Barry Lynn has an update on his post following PBS’s ombudsman Michael Getler’s defense of showing this film:

What Getler fails to grasp is that the perspective offered in this film has been debunked. Getler notes that during the film, the narrator says, “The United States is a society based on the rule of law. And our Founding Fathers believed that if they did not base their laws on a higher authority, then whoever was in power would determine what the law said. They called this ‘tyranny.’ Their higher authority was the Law of God – the Ten Commandments.”

Legal historians have researched this issue time and again. They found no references to the Ten Commandments during the debate over the Constitution. Furthermore, there is no reference to “higher authority” or “the Law of God” in the Constitution, a wholly secular document…

Godawa’s PBS film – I will not dignify it with the term “documentary” – is part of the Religious Right’s ongoing strategy to rewrite American history and portray church-state separation, a principle that is one of our nation’s greatest contributions to governance and liberty, as somehow unhistorical and dangerous.

Godawa is free to make whatever films he likes. But it is a shame that PBS, which has a reputation for broadcasting many fine programs, has allowed itself to be used as a channel for the distribution of material designed not to educate but misinform. This program fell way short of the high standards normally adhered to by PBS. What’s next – giving the creationists equal time on “Nova”?

At a bare minimum, PBS should label Godawa’s program as viewpoint and let stations and viewers know the radical religious-political perspective he’s pushing.

Chopra Woo Versus Irresposible Astrologer

With all the talk of astrology and other bogus ideas over the past week or two, I really got a good laugh from this item emailed by a reader, via James Randi. Deepak Chopra, new age charlatan, takes on the age old favorite of charlatan, astrology. The question is raised of whether we should believe an astrologer who provides a prediction of bad things to come. Here’s the question raised to Chopra:

Q: How does one let go of ideas that were implanted in our minds at such a young age? For example, when I was in the 7th grade, an astrologer told me that I would have a nervous breakdown at 35. All these years, I have been plagued by anxiety and now as I approach my 35th birthday, it’s getting worse.

Does Chopra come through and tell the questioner that its all a bunch of bunk, and that an reading taken in 7th grade has no predictive value for age 35, or even when in 7th grade. Well, no. Here’s his answer:

A: First of all, any astrologer who tells you that you are going to have a nervous breakdown, without telling you what you can do to avoid or eliminate the problem beforehand, is doing you a grave disservice. The value of an astrological reading is to discover the likelihood of certain potentialities and then to provide information and techniques to help you manifest the outcome that you actually want. It should empower you with knowledge of how to shape your destiny, not make you fatalistic about it.

Don’t allow your anxiety about this prediction of a nervous breakdown to manifest the very thing you fear. If you have psychological issues and defenses that you think might make you susceptible to a nervous breakdown, then work on those issues now to develop the emotional strength and resiliency you need to face whatever the future brings.

Well, Deepak sure put that charlatan in his place, or some place, but clearly not a place which makes much sense.

Update: What a difference a week makes. Last week, Liberal Values was the target of a vicious smear campaign for taking a stand against astrology, conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial. Today my views on astrology earned the blog a link from Pharyngula. This post is linked in a post responding to Chopra crying about “nastiness of the blogosphere’s reaction to his idiocy” as one of several examples of such idiocy.

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