SciFi Friday: All Star Trek Edition, With Musical Number

There are a number of rumors this week regarding casting and possible plot for the upcoming Star Trek movie. Zachary Quinto has also given a number of interviews which may contain some clues as to the direction Abrams intends to take with Star Trek. It wasn’t at all surprising to learn that this could be the first of a new series of movies. In response to one question, Quinto said “It is a multiple picture deal, yeah. If there end up being sequels, that remains to be seen. There’s more than one movie attached to this one.” Quinto also had some comments on how he will be portraying Spock:

The interesting thing is that you meet this character before you ever knew him on the television series and the other movies, so sort of what you know about him and then also an exploration of how he got to that point. All of the characters, not just Spock.

Other than for Quinto being cast as Spock, much of the casting has not yet been set. The Trek Movie Report says that Zoë Saldana has been offered the role of Uhura. Saldana appreared in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl but also played a Trekkie in The Terminal


There’s also news of another former Star Trek cast member appearing on television next season. John Billingsley, who played Phlox on Star Trek: Voyager and appeared in The Nine last season, will have a role on 24 next season.

Ain’t It Cool News has rumors on the plot of the upcoming Star Trek movie. Keep in mind that this rumor may or may not be valid, and even if accurate might not apply to the final movie. This idea does allow Abrams to work in both the young and older Spock, as well as get around potential continuity problems. Reportedly Romulans wind up in the past and decide to change the time line by killing a young James T. Kirk. The older Spock goes back in time to prevent this plot, however might wind up creating a different time line. Subsequent movies would take place in this new time line in which many things would be the same but there could be differences.

Unless Abrams has some remarkable ideas for this new time line (assuming there is even any truth to this) I’m not sure this is a good idea. There are plenty of stories which could still be told without violating the continuity of the original stories. Of course fans might have to give Abrams a little leeway and not worry about every trivial point.

Can the science of Star Trek come true? Slice of SciFi has had some recent stories suggesting possible situations in which this can occur. One technology might lead to a device comparable to the holodeck:

A technology dubbed “autostereoscopic light field display” makes the claim it is able to present interactive 3D graphics to multiple simultaneous viewers 360 degrees around the display.

The USC developers of the device — Andrew Jones, Ian McDowall, Hideshi Yamada, Mark Bolas and Paul Debevec — describe it this way in their abstract:

The display consists of a high-speed video projector, a spinning mirror covered by a holographic diffuser, and FPGA circuitry to decode specially rendered DVI video signals. The display uses a standard programmable graphics card to render over 5,000 images per second of interactive 3D graphics, projecting 360-degree views with 1.25 degree separation up to 20 updates per second.

We describe the system’s projection geometry and its calibration process, and we present a multiple-center-of-projection rendering technique for creating perspective-correct images from arbitrary viewpoints around the display. Our projection technique allows correct vertical perspective and parallax to be rendered for any height and distance when these parameters are known, and we demonstrate this effect with interactive raster graphics using a tracking system to measure the viewer’s height and distance. We further apply our projection technique to the display of photographed light fields with accurate horizontal and vertical parallax.

Another story reports on possible energy weapons which could be developed to use against insurgents in Iraq.

As I’m spending the weekend at the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival, I thought I should end this week’s edition of SciFi Friday with a musical number. Members of various casts of Star Trek do the Time Warp:


Poll Shows Connecticut Voters Support Secular Politics

While they are not be representative of voters nation wide, Connecticut voters are firm believers in secular politics regardless of their religious views according to a poll conducted by the Hartford Courant. The poll found that Connecticut voters felt there was too much influence of religion in politics compared to only 32% who approved of the current amount.

This view makes residents distinct from Americans across the country. In addition to the half of Constitution state residents who feel religion has too much influence on American politics, 32% say organized religion’s influence on politics is “about right,” and only 17% feel religion’s influence is not enough. In stark contrast to these views, Americans as a whole are evenly divided over the influence of religion. Only 32% feel religion has too much influence, 31% think it has too little influence, and 29% feel the balance is right, according to a Newsweek poll conducted earlier this year.

Connecticut voters oppose religious leaders becoming involved in electoral politics and public policy:

Consistent with the view that religion is too influential politically, Connecticut residents oppose political leaders becoming involved in both electoral politics and public policy. In the electoral realm, 70% of residents feel religious leaders should not encourage voters to support or oppose a particular candidate. Only 25% feel that religious leaders should do so.
The Courant / CSRA survey demonstrates that residents also oppose religious leaders trying to affect politicians’ policy positions. Two-thirds (66%) believe leaders should not try to influence politicians’ views on issues. Only 27% believe religious leaders should try to influence politicians’ issue positions.

Even the most religious residents of the Nutmeg state oppose religious leaders taking these political actions. Among those residents who say religion is “extremely important” in their lives, 64% oppose religious leaders urging support or opposition to candidates for office. When it comes to political issues, 51% of the most religious feel religious leaders should not try to influence politicians, while 42% believe they should…

Connecticut residents are also clear about keeping religion out of government policy. Sixty-eight percent feel that politicians should not rely on their own religious beliefs to make policy decisions. Only 26% of residents support politicians mixing personal religion and policy.

More broadly, Connecticut residents believe in a strict separation of church and state. Sixty-seven percent would rather see a “high degree of separation between church and state” while 27% believe the government should “protect America’s religious heritage.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State discussed this poll and the reasons quoted the views of an Episcopal priest regarding the importance of differentiating between religious belief and public policy:

Episcopal priest Tom Ehrich explained in a recent Religion News Service column why fusing religious belief and public policy is dangerous.

“What we learned from Europe’s religious wars and from the more recent horror of the Taliban isn’t some historical footnote,” wrote Ehrich. “It’s the reason we keep religion out of political life.”

He continued, “Power corrupts everyone who holds it, but corruption and carnage increase exponentially when the religious hold political and cultural power. Religious zealots can’t handle the reins. They don’t know how to compromise. They don’t know how to admit error. They don’t know how to encourage freedom and the many unexpected places freedom will lead.”

This does not mean that people of faith should not participate in politics. They absolutely should, but they cannot depend on government to satisfy, in Ehrich’s words, their “yearning for a deeper faith, for beliefs that make sense of a confusing and dangerous world, for a sense of God as deeply engaged with us in seeking a just society.”

Ehrich wrote that everyone – from politicians to school children – must remember “American values are expressed in the Constitution, not in the Law of Moses or the Quran.

“If history teaches nothing else,” he concludes, “it teaches that religion makes a mess of government and society when it has too much power. There is no reason to think that today’s theocrats would behave any more admirably.”

Will a New Democratic Government Return to 1932 Or Be Prepared for the 21st Century?

Writing in The Atlantic, Ross Douthat sees parallels to another period in which the Democrats were routed in a presidential election only to take control of Congress in the midterm elections, followed by total Democratic control of the government in the next presidential election. This was when FDR won overwhelmingly in 1932, and we may see a repeat in 2008. While I do not anticipate as tremendous a Democratic victory in 2008 as in 1932, there is an excellent chance that George W. Bush will be remembered as doing even more harm to the nation than Herbert Hoover. Douthat believes that the Democrats are more prepared to govern than in recent yeras as they are more united:

So the opening has passed to the Democrats, who suddenly and unexpectedly have the makings of a durable majority of their own within their grasp. What’s more, they have the outlines of a message that might allow them to seize that majority. The issues that split the Democratic Party throughout the Clinton years—between the center and the left, the deficit hawks and the Great Society liberals, The New Republic and The Nation, Robert Rubin and Robert Reich—still stir passionate debate, but in recent years the factions have been converging. This convergence has been particularly evident in foreign policy, where the debate over the Iraq War has been decisively settled in favor of the opponents of preventive war. But it may prove more enduring on the domestic front, where the gap between the left and the center-left has closed dramatically since the days when the two sides feuded bitterly over everything from free trade to health care to welfare reform.

On the one hand, you have The New Republic, the flagship magazine of centrist liberals, expressing regret for its role in derailing the Clinton health-care plan in the 1990s; on the other, you have the left-wing economist James Galbraith counseling readers of The Nation that “it’s time to get over” the free-trade battles of the ’90s and accept that both NAFTA and manufactured imports from China are here to stay. Protectionism and corporation bashing still find an audience, but even John Edwards, the progressives’ darling in the ’08 race, is running on an antipoverty platform that seeks to build on, rather than overturn, the welfare settlement of the mid-’90s, and is pushing a relatively market-friendly plan for universal health care. At the same time, many of the architects of Bill Clinton’s deficit-cutting centrism—including Larry Summers and even Robert Rubin—are paying greater attention to left-wing concerns over outsourcing and growing income inequality.

The result is an emerging consensus that uses the centrist achievements of the ’90s as a jumping-off point for a new-model populism. Conservatives have spent years mocking liberals for lacking big new ideas, and in a sense their charge still rings true. But the new-model populists have a big old idea, universal health care, that’s increasingly popular, and a host of smaller ideas—from wage insurance to assist the victims of outsourcing to universal 401(k) programs to help working-class families build assets for their children—all paid for, presumably, by tax hikes on the rich.

This populist mind set is unlikely to work for long in a post-industrial society where a growing number aspire to be wealthy and at least have a fighting chance at a fair degree of affluence. The failure of many Democrats to understand this is a major reason whey the Republicans ruled until their incompetence and corruption was too much for even those who have historically benefited from Republican government.

Counting on some potentially favorable trends might ultimately backfire for the Democrats:

These are the short-term trends that helped tip ’06 to the Democrats; in the long term, a new-model populism’s prospects look brighter still. The Republicans are to a large extent the party of married couples with children, while the Democrats are the party of unmarried voters, who tend to be more sensitive to economic risk, and thus more supportive of welfare spending, than members of intact nuclear families. But the nuclear family has been in steady decline for years, pushed along by falling marriage rates and rising out-of-wedlock births, trends that are likely to create an ever-larger base for a left-populist majority.

Relying on those who suffer economically to make a majority worked fine during the depression, but is also a major reason why the Republicans have controlled the White House for a majority of the post World War II era. By supporting the war and adopting the social policies of the religious right, the Republicans have made themselves unattractive to a growing number of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds As a consequence, a growing number of “Starbucks Republicans” and independents are voting Democratic, along with those living in affluent suburbs.

Opposition to Republican policies, both on social issues and the war, makes it easy for affluent independents and former Republicans to vote Democratic in the short run. Whether the Democrats can keep such votes depends upon the policies they promote once in power. Edwards-style populism, as well as economic arguments which pit those at economic risk against the successful, will have these new Democratic voters willing to overlook what might be dismissed as a few nutty ideas and return to voting Republican.

Republicans have often made the mistake of thinking they can profit indefinitely by only concentrating on defending the rights of the wealthy. Ultimately businesses are more profitable when there is a prosperous middle class which can afford to spend money. Many Democrats make the same mistake in reverse, seeing going after the wealth of the affluent as an easy solution as opposed to improving the economy for all.

The problems with the world views of both the Democratic and Republican Parties is one reason for the Perot movement of the recent past and the interest in an independent candidate in 2008. In an educated affluent post-industrial nation neither the social conservativism and disastrous foreign policy beliefs of the Republicans or the populism of portions of the Democratic Party provide a satisfactory alternative to many voters. The question is whether the Democrats realize it is not 1932 and develop a governing philosophy for the 21st century or see recent electoral advantages as an excuse for advocating reactionary populism.

Democrats Continue to be Haunted by Failure to Stand Up To Republicans on Terrorism Issue Since 9/11

A report on terrorism policy in today’s Washington Post shows the problems the Democrats have had since 9/11. While the Democrats sought national unity following the attack, the Republicans played politics instead, setting up a situation where failing to agree with GOP policies was portrayed as being soft on fighting terrorism.

Once it was clear that the Republicans were playing politics with the terrorism issue, the Democrats should have stood up for preserving our liberties regardless of the threat. Basing their objection on such principles would not only be the right thing to do, but would provide the Democrats with a political argument they could campaign on. Democrats have also failed to make the case that restricting civil liberties is playing into the hands of terrorists and only acts to encourage them to continue this strategy.

Having failed to make the case based upon liberties, the Democrats now find themselves in a political bind:

The Democrats’ failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party’s leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies — on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

At the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress yesterday, panelists discussing the balance between security and freedom lashed out at Democratic leaders for not standing up to the White House. “These are matters of principle,” said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the center. “You don’t temporize.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is running Internet advertisements depicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) as sheep.

“Bush wanted more power to eavesdrop on ordinary Americans, and we just followed along. I guess that’s why they call us the Democratic leadersheep,” say the two farm animals in the ad, referring to Congress’s passage of legislation granting Bush a six-month extension and expansion of his warrantless wiretapping program.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who leads a newly created House select intelligence oversight panel, lamented, “Democrats have been slow to recognize they are in the majority now and can go back to really examine the fundamentals of what we should be doing to protect democracy.”

Reid and Pelosi promised last week that they would at least confront the president next month over his wiretapping program, with Pelosi taking an uncompromising stand in a private conference call with House Democrats. When lawmakers return in September, Democrats will also push legislation to restore habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and may resume an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But conservative Democrats and some party leaders continue to worry that taking on those issues would expose them to Republican charges that they are weak on terrorism. And advocates of a strong push on the terrorism issues are increasingly skeptical that they can prevail.

Democrats would be in a far stronger position if they had made the case for liberty from the start as opposed to allowing the Republicans to frame the issue as being for or against defending the country against terrorism. Democrats might also find themselves having a harder time than anticipated in the 2008 election should Clinton or Edwards win the nomination considering their poor track records on the issue.

Study Argues US Troops Can Be Withdrawn From Iraq Safely in One Year

A study from the Center for American Progress projects that US troops can be withdrawn from Iraq in about one year:

Most U.S. troops can be withdrawn safely from Iraq in roughly one year and the Bush administration should begin planning the pullout immediately, according to a study released Wednesday.

With the exception mostly of two brigades of about 8,000 troops who would remain in the touchy Kurdish region in the north for a year to guard against conflict with Turkey, the U.S. troops would be moved to Kuwait initially, says the study by the Center for American Progress, a self-described ”progressive think tank” headed by John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff to former President Clinton.

A brigade and an air wing of some 70 to 80 planes would remain in the Persian Gulf country indefinitely. Meanwhile, the withdrawal would give the United States leeway to add 20,000 troops to the 25,000 in Afghanistan trying to counter Taliban and al Qaida forces.

How fast the troops depart from Iraq and go home depends largely on how much essential equipment goes along with the withdrawal, according to the study.

The troops could be out of Iraq in no more than three months if the equipment is left behind, a course not proposed in the study.

On the other hand, ”if the United States does not set a specific timetable, our military forces and our overall national security will remain hostage to events on the ground in Iraq,” the report said.

Even worse, an all-out civil war could compel a withdrawal of the U.S. troops, now numbering about 160,000, in three months’ time, which would force leaving valuable equipment behind and preventing control of an orderly exodus, the report said.

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Dodd Receives Endorsement, and Needed Boost to Campaign

The Democratic race has felt like the top four in terms of the national polls are virtually written in stone with everyone else barely registering. The question today is whether a major endorsement will give Chris Dodd the attention he needs to increase his support. As it isn’t even Labor Day yet, there certainly is plenty of time for the dynamics of the race to change. Four years ago the endorsement from the firefighters helped Kerry, but there were also many other factors which contributed to Kerry’s victory. It is premature to evaluate Dodd’s chances, but at least this endorsement gives his long shot candidacy more credibility. The Washington Post quoted IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger:

Schaitberger said Dodd won the union’s support because of an unmatched record over 30 years of “carrying the water” for the union in Congress. But equally important, he said, is his union’s belief that Dodd has the leadership skills to keep the country safe during an era of terrorist threats.

“We believe Chris has the experience we need right now in a pretty tough world,” he said in a telephone interview.

Schaitberger said he and his members were not daunted by the long-shot character of Dodd’s candidacy. “Yes, right now he’s not polling,” he said. “It would be facetious to suggest anything else. But I don’t think the polling is worth spit.”

Schaitberger said firefighters play an integral role in communities across the country and, perhaps more significantly, understand the caucus process in Iowa “better than all the highly paid Washington types.”

Hillary Clinton also received a union endorsement from the United Transportation Union.

Texas is Doomed

The creationists never give up. After the Supreme Court ruled that creationism cannot be taught in the schools they first tried to rename it as intelligent design. They ran into legal problems in Dover, and political problems in Kansas as the IDiots were voted out of office. PZ Myers believes that they have a new strategy which might be in use in Texas.

If the creationists cannot convince enough people to drop creationism their next plan is to embrace the word “evolution” but redefine what it means. On the surface it would appear that the recent decision by the Texas school board not to include intelligent design in science classes is a victory. If Myers is right, the evolution they will wind up teaching is not actually evolution:

It’s a cunning plan to sow confusion, which is ultimately all the Intelligent Design creationists are good at. If state education standards mandate instruction in evolution and if the laws of the land make teaching Intelligent Design creationism illegal, well, they’ll adapt and teach “evolution” … it’s just that this version of “evolution” flouts the ideas of experts, ignores the evidence, misrepresents the theory, and promotes a role for design in “evolutionary” history.

It’s an interesting tactic. Simply write a very bad book about evolution, market it appropriately, and find enough ideologically motivated science teachers to use it, and they will have effectively continued their efforts to subvert science education in this country. After all, the successful court challenges to block creationism in the classroom have done so on the basis of their violation of the separation of church and state, not so much on their quality and competence; propagating awful science is probably constitutional.

Mathematicians Prove Jessica Alba’s Perfection


The right wing rejects mathematical models which demonstrate climate change, but here’s some findings which they might not question. A group of Cambridge mathematicians have created a model which explains why Jessica Alba’s walk is so sexy:

The academics found that it is the ratio between hips and waist that puts the sway into a woman’s walk – and the nearer that ratio is to 0.7, the better.

This ratio provides the body with the right torso strength to produce a more angular swing and bounce to the hips during the walking motion.

Therefore, a woman with a 25in waist and 36in hips would have just the right proportions to carry off a sexy swagger as she walks.

The Jessica Alba sashay beat off competition from Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie and even Marilyn Monroe, whose walk along a railway platform in Some Like It Hot is one of the most famous in film history.

While Monroe was a fraction off the target ratio with 0.69, the Cambridge team said that Alba had the perfect proportions.

Could Jessica Alba’s perfect proportions have anything to do with that genetic enhancement she received in Dark Angel?

Gay Marriage in Medieval France

Here’s a story which Mitt Romney might really find of value for his anti-France campaign. He’s already attacked France with untrue claims about marriage practices there which probably came either from a 1993 comedy or a science fiction story about Mormon practices in space. Now we have a report which argues that there was legalized same-sex marriage in medieval France:

“Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize,” Tulchin writes in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History. “And Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.”

For example, he found legal contracts from late medieval France that referred to the term “affrèrement,” roughly translated as brotherment. Similar contracts existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe, Tulchin said.

In the contract, the “brothers” pledged to live together sharing “un pain, un vin, et une bourse,” (that’s French for one bread, one wine and one purse). The “one purse” referred to the idea that all of the couple’s goods became joint property. Like marriage contracts, the “brotherments” had to be sworn before a notary and witnesses, Tulchin explained.

The same type of legal contract of the time also could provide the foundation for a variety of non-nuclear households, including arrangements in which two or more biological brothers inherited the family home from their parents and would continue to live together, Tulchin said.

But non-relatives also used the contracts. In cases that involved single, unrelated men, Tulchin argues, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships.”

This is far from conclusive evidence, and there is also plenty of historical evidence of persecution of gay couples, but even the possibility of this should be enough to start another France-bashing campaign on the right.

Obama and Coburn’s Joint Effort

Barack Obama raised questions over the weekend when asked to name Republicans that he would work with as president in an AP interview. He mentioned Dick Lugar and John Warner, but the name which created the most controversy was Tom Coburn.

I would also seek out people like Tom Coburn, who is probably the most conservative member of the U.S. Senate. He has become a friend of mine.

There was a time when having friendships and working with people from the other side of the Senate aisle was commonplace. Still, initially it was hard to see where Coburn and Obama might share common ground. One answer came in an article in The Washington Post yesterday on Obama’s chief of staff Pete Rouse:

Under Rouse’s guidance, Obama built close relations with one of the most conservative members of the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), working with him to pass a bill that creates a Google-like search system and database to help Americans easily search government spending. He worked with another Republican, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), to increase U.S. funding to find and dispose of loose antiaircraft missiles and other weapons in the former Soviet Union.

While Obama’s mention of Coburn brought attacks from supporters of some of the other candidates, showing such an ability to work with any Republican, even Coburn, will come as a welcome sign of reversing the hyper-partisanship of recent years to many voters.