SciFi Friday (Saturday Edition): Jericho, Torchwood, and Britney

It was a slow week with Lost on hiatus, Torchwood off for a week on the BBC, and shows such as Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica being on the verge of returning with new episodes. Battlestar Galactica is airing a recap show in case someone wants to begin watching with the final season. (You will still have missed quite a bit with a thirty minute recap only touching the surface.)

The major event of the week was the series finale of Jericho. The finale, Patriots and Tyrants, had to wrap up a series which had already been condensed into seven episodes. My suspicion is that the season would have been much better if there was more time for each plot thread to play out as opposed to quickly presenting major events before fully seeing the impact on prior events.

The ending left things open for a continuation, with there remaining some possibility that the SciFi Channel or CW might pick up the series. This is hardly surprising as even though they did not leave without a cliff hanger they had created a country which was drastically changed, leaving plenty of room for future development. Executive Producer Carol Barbee provided some information as to what the finale would have been like if they had gone with the other ending prepared for if the show had been picked up. The show’s official web site also contains photos from the episode with a scene I do not recall (one above) making me wonder if it is something which was present in the other version.

One aspect of the rushed season I didn’t like was the minimal treatment of the John Smith subplot. It came as no surprise that he turned out to be a bad guy but we ultimately found out too little about him. In many ways his addition actually weakened the narrative for the final episodes. Jericho was becoming a commentary on Iraq and contemporary America with Jennings and Rall taking on the role of an even more powerful Halliburton. The viewers, and later characters like Beck, saw that something was rotten with the new government and there was the implication that there was a connection between them and the destruction of twenty-three American cities.

Until John Smith took credit for the nuclear explosions, the suspicion was that Jennings and Rall might have been responsible for the attack in order to take over. Instead John Smith claimed he did so in order to rid the country of the influence of Jennings and Rall. This still leaves the Allied States government with problems, but they are not as evil as they were appearing at one point. Without time to develop Smith, it would have been better for the attack to have come from J&R as at least we would have had known something about them. In John Smith’s case we saw far too little of the person who was identified to be the show’s ultimate villain.

Another question is why the bomb was brought to Cheyenne as opposed to a military base, especially considering that it was being transported out of the city shortly after it arrived. This was clearly done to give them an excuse to show Cheyenne, but it helped reduce the believability of the finale. The conclusion in which Texas is expected to join with the Columbus government in a civil war against Cheyenne would have been stronger if we had seen more evidence that the other two governments did not suffer from problems similar to those in Cheyenne. How does Jake and Hawkins really know that the other two would turn out any better?

Torchwood only has one more episode this season (with others still to be shown on BBC America) but it looks like there will be a bonus episode which we do not get to actually see. Digital Spy reports:

Bridging the gap between an apparently apocalyptic end to its second season and the potentially-revamped third, sexy alien-hunter show Torchwood is making the jump to radio. A special one-off episode about the secret organization that guards a “temporal rift” in Cardiff will be transmitted on BBC Radio 4 this summer — and it happens to be oddly topical, if you’re a science geek.

In the 45 minute episode, to be broadcast in Radio 4’s traditional “Afternoon Play” slot, the Torchwood team – portrayed by their television cast – will deal with a mission revolving around a particle accelerator. Why a particle accelerator, you ask? Well, because the episode will be transmitted on the same day as the opening of the world’s biggest particle accelerator in Switzerland, and if nothing else, Radio 4 likes to keep up with what’s happening in the world.

Having Britney Spears on How I Met Your Mother might have paid off as it led to the highest ratings for the season and greatly increasing its chances for renewal. Otherwise the episode was a disappointment, with Sarah Chalke (who replace Alicia Silverstone, who was originally planned to appear) having a much more significant role. Britney was undoubtedly added purely for her name and her minor role could have easily been filled by an unknown actress.

I expected more of her role considering her guest appearance on Will and Grace. On Will and Grace she started out appearing to be a conservative but then revealed that this was just an act as she said, “I’m not who you think I am. My real name is Peg. And I’m a hardcore lesbian. I’m into leather play, butch white girls, skunkin’, pullin’ the blinds, and poodle balling. Whatever you got, I’ll eat it, snort it, or ride it, baby.” Imagine Barney’s reaction to this type of Britney Spears character.

The Future of Fox

Time has an article on the challenges faced by Fox News and the changes which are inevitable should the Democrats win as expected in November. Steve Benen warns against writing off Fox and I agree with him. A Democratic government would be the best thing which could happen for Fox in terms of improving their ratings.One remarkable thing about Fox is the manner in which they changed from an opposition voice to a Pravda-clone overnight when Bush replaced Bill Clinton. They will do the same (in reverse) and probably thrive.

A network like Fox can work as the mouthpiece for the government if the government has solid support, but they are not going to thrive in the current atmosphere. When Bush was popular post 9/11 Fox had a winning formula. It is not surprising that their  ratings would diminish along with Bush’s popularity, even if they are still beating CNN and MSNBC.

A Democratic government is just what Fox needs to improve their ratings. I guess this is an insurmountable problem for liberals who both back the Democrats and hate Fox. As a mouthpiece for the Bush administration, they risk losing viewers except among those who still support Bush despite all the evidence of his failings. While not all conservatives agree in backing Bush anymore, they will be more united in objecting to the Democratic controlled government and will seek out news which promotes this view.

There are also potentially more viewers when they return to being a network opposingt he government as opposed to acting as a government propaganda outfit. Simply being critical of the government (regardless who is in power) is a stronger position for a network to be in than to be stuck supporting a government which has failed.

I recall when I first noticed Fox on the cable schedule at a time when I was no big fan of Bill Clinton. Initially I had some interest in a network which was often bashing him. If nothing else it fed into my general anti-politician and anti-government feelings. My interest diminished very quickly when I noted two problems with their approach. While they knocked the Clinton Administration, which was fine with me, I had no interest in their blind support for the Republican opposition, which I certainly did not think was any better. The second problem was that it didn’t take long to realize that some of the negative “news” on Clinton was made up. The scandals they discussed just never turned into anything of consequence (with at least one notable exception). While I might have enjoyed coverage which honestly discussed their shortcomings, I saw no value in a “news”show which made up their facts.

In the long run Fox must decide whether they care more about being a news outlet with a conservative tilt versus being a dishonest propaganda outlet which is primarily concerned with promoting the fortunes of one political party. So far it has been clear which route Fox has chosen.

Professor Obama

Clinton supporters, in their never ending attempts to behave exactly like Republican Clinton bashers have since the 1990’s, have been raising an endless stream of bogus attacks on Barack Obama. While many aspects of Clinton’s biography have been exposed as fiction some Clinton supporters have been claiming that it is  untrue that Obama has been a Professor of Constitutional Law.

Having her claims on Bosnia exposed as fiction has harmed Hillary Clinton as it undermines her now debunked claims of greater experience on foreign policy.  Gerard Baker has pointed out how Clinton has a habit of lying about even minor matters such as claiming she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary even though she was born about five years before he climbed Everest when he was unknown outside of New Zealand.

Strangely, the Clinton camp has a much higher standard for truth with regards to Barack Obama’s biography. Obama’s experience in teaching Constitutional law does provide him with an advantage in experience over Hillary Clinton, making it understandable that they would like to pretend it wasn’t so. What matters is not so much the line on the resume but the results of the experience, and Obama’s experience can be seen in comparing their views on issues such as civil liberties, limiting presidential power, and separation of church and state.

Clinton supporters and some Republicans have concentrated on a distinction which most people have no concern with between a lecturer and a full professor. The Clinton camp has been distributing this blog post but, as with most of their attacks, it simply does not hold up factually. The University of Chicago released this statement verifying that Obama has been a professor (emphasis mine):

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers have high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.

Apparently the University of Chicago regarded Obama as a professor but the Clinton campaign does not. I’ll go with the statement from the University of Chicago. It is certainly true that there are differences between professors, which most voters probably do not care about at all.

It is common for universities to give titles of professor to professionals which differ from the actual full time faculty on a tenure-track. I have a title which I believe is officially labeled Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine from Michigan State University (which has no bearing on my loyalties to my alma mater, the University of Michigan, and I take no responsibility for their basketball performance last night.) While placing me about as low as one could be on the professorship totem pole, this contributes to my understanding of Obama being labeled a professor when he taught law while in private practice. I never assumed he was more than he was, and see no evidence that he made any attempts to exaggerate his position.

Obama never claimed to be anything other than what he was at the University of Chicago, and their statement verifies the validity of referring to this as being a professor.  Seeing the University of Chicago write of “his 12 years as a professor in the Law School” trumps any of the distortions being distributed by the Clinton campaign when they claim he was not a professor.

Zbigniew Brzezinski On Getting Out Of a Foolish War

Zbigniew Brzezinski has an op-ed in The Washington Post which makes a number of excellent points, beginning with the characterization of the war as foolish in the title. Those who argue against leaving point out the risks of leaving but ignore the damage that is done by staying.

I think many liberal bloggers have being playing politics in portraying John McCain as being worse than George Bush on foreign policy. McCain’s views on the war are being distorted when his comment about remaining in Iraq for one hundred years is taken to mean he envisions a prolonged continuation of the current state of warfare. While this is a distortion of McCain’s statement, McCain still has serious problems in failing to recognize the extent of the problem. Just as he has underestimated the violence in Iraq in the past, John McCain is wrong in failing to recognize that our very presence in Iraq as an occupying power is a cause of problems. Brzezinski writes:

The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for “staying the course” draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush’s and Sen. John McCain’s forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of “falling dominoes” that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.

Nonetheless, if the American people had been asked more than five years ago whether Bush’s obsession with the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth 4,000 American lives, almost 30,000 wounded Americans and several trillion dollars — not to mention the less precisely measurable damage to the United States’ world-wide credibility, legitimacy and moral standing — the answer almost certainly would have been an unequivocal “no.”

Nor do the costs of this fiasco end there. The war has inflamed anti-American passions in the Middle East and South Asia while fragmenting Iraqi society and increasing the influence of Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Baghdad offers ample testimony that even the U.S.-installed government in Iraq is becoming susceptible to Iranian blandishments.

In brief, the war has become a national tragedy, an economic catastrophe, a regional disaster and a global boomerang for the United States. Ending it is thus in the highest national interest.