SciFi Friday: Star Trek, Cylons in Bikinis, Saturn Awards, and Casting News

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Ain’t It Cool News got a brief look at the upcoming Star Trek movie:

He showed me a scene of Ben Cross (Sarek) & Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson) cradling a baby Spock on the surface of Vulcan. A baby with Spock ears is kind of amazing to look at. But there was no dialogue here, and Vulcan wasn’t really there yet – what was there was a great rock formation that kinda reminded me of that wonky mountain/cliff thing from ARENA / BILL & TED. That said, it wasn’t the ARENA formation – and JJ said that zero effects had been done on this yet – so the lighting wasn’t right, the sky wasn’t right and there were no angry volcano type things or structures in the background, but he assured me… it’ll all look very Vulcan when it is done.

The next scene was a really nicely completed visual effects pass of a pre-Enterprise Federation ship from about 25 years before the Enterprise. I’ve no idea how this fits into the larger story, same with the Spock baby stuff. But this effects shot had a completely different space feel than anything I’ve seen before from STAR TREK or STAR WARS. The shot began on a small part of the ship, then craned back and over to reveal the ship coming into a larger shot of the ship seemingly orbiting a really angry sun. The shot was absolutely dynamic as the star was seemingly raging – and we cut to the interior of the ship – it was very shadowy and very much like that of an old diesel submarine – JJ told me that the look was an evolving look for Star Fleet – so that you could get a sense of the passage of decades here. Once again though – I didn’t see the end of the scene or really get a sense for what was going on.

We might have to wait several months to see it, but the Battlestar Galactica series finale has been lengthened to three hours. The second half of the fourth season will be a total of four hours (not counting at least one made for television movie). In the meantime you  could buy your own Cylon to provide entertainment for only $7900. Unfortunately they only sell the toaster variety. They might have better sales if they use a different type of Cylon. After all, two of the three below are Cylons, and I’m not entirely certain about the third:

It seems that a Japanese firm is thinking more along these lines, but they have a long way to go from this robotic girlfriend.

The actresses of Battlestar Galactica are not the only ones to spend the summer posing in bikinis. Ali Larter of Heroes appears in Allure:

Heroes returns on September 22 and Tim Kring told SciFi Wire a bit about the upcoming season:

“You’re going to see a lot of bad guys in this one,” Kring said. “The idea, also, is we’re playing off the idea of our characters as heroes or villains. So it’s really the duality of good and evil. … We’re playing off of this duality of good and evil. All of our characters were given these powers and possess these powers, and at some point it becomes sort of free will and human nature as to what you’re going to do with that. And all of us are given the choice to make decisions that lead us down very dark paths or towards heroic ends. And so, literally, every one of our characters gets faced with that dilemma.”

Kring told SciFi Wire that the third season of the show will delve further into the characters and their backgrounds.

“One of the things that this volume is going to do that, I think, is really going to be fun for the audience is that there were very initial sort of primal questions that the show asked,” Kring said. “Who am I? What’s happening to me? How am I connected? Where are these powers coming from? All of those questions get reframed and turned on their head in a very interesting way in this volume.”

The third season will be divided up into volumes in keeping with other seasons. The first volume will focus on the villains of Heroes, including popular bad-guy Sylar.

“Well, we have no plans of saying goodbye to Sylar right now,” Kring assured fans. “I mean, that was yet another silver lining for the strike, was Zach Quinto’s availability to us in the third volume. I mean, that was a huge thing for us to be able to have him back. As you guys know, he would have disappeared for a large chunk of the second half of season two. And so, for us, it was a big, big deal.”

Heroes will also include a Veronica Mars reunion. Kristen Bell and Francis Capra (Weevil) will be reunited in the same series as Capra plays a villain named Jesse. So as to not leave her out of the summer bikini edition, a picture of Kristen Bell in a bikini from Forgetting Sarah Marshall is here,  Kristen Bell as Princess Leia slave girl is here, and another picture of her has been posted here.

Lost has been nominated for an Emmy Award and won four times at the Saturn Awards on June 24. Lost won for best network television series, best actor (Matthew Fox), best supporting actor (Michael Emerson) and best supporting actress (Elizabeth Mitchell). Cloverfield won for best Science Fiction Film and Enchanted won as best Fantasy Film. Amy Adams (above) won the Best Actress Award for her role as Giselle, the newest Disney princess in Enchanted.

Two cast members of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip have been signed for new roles. Amanda Peet will be the female lead in 2012:

2012 revolves around a global cataclysm and the heroic struggle of the survivors. Peet is playing Cusack’s ex-wife, newly married to a wealthy man. Cusack plays a divorced father trying to become a writer while holding a job as a limo driver.

Matthew Perry of Studio 60 and Friends will be returning to television, and get to swear a lot, in The End of Steve. From the description I assume that this will be on premium cable and not network television.

Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who and Heroes will once again appear in a role with a female companion, but this time he’ll be playing second fiddle. He will play Amelia Earhart’s navigator Fred Noonan in Amelia. He will also play a villian named Destro in G.I. Joe.

Pickens Still Not Paying Up on Swift Boat Offer

Back in November T. Boone Pickens offered $1 million to anyone who could dispute the claims of the Swift Boat Liars who he helped finance during the 2004 election. Kerry took him up on the offer, but Pickens reneged. Last week a group of veterans who served with Kerry again sent Pickens information debunking the claims of the Swift Boat Liars to claim the $1 million.

A group of Swift boat veterans sympathetic to Mr. Kerry sent Mr. Pickens a letter last week taking him up on the challenge. In 12 pages, plus a 42-page attachment of military records and other documents, they identified not just one but ten lies in the group’s campaign against Mr. Kerry. They offered to meet with him to provide Mr. Kerry’s journals and videotapes from Vietnam and a copy of his full military record certified by the Navy – a key demand of Mr. Pickens and veterans who believe Mr. Kerry lied about his service to win his military decorations.

Pickens has reniged once again.

Midwest Independents Want Obama, But Without Clinton on the Ticket

A Quinnipiac poll of swing states, primarily in the midwest, shows that Obama has is receiving strong support among independents, and that adding Hillary Clinton to the ticket would not  be helpful. For example Obama has a twelve point lead among independents in Colorado, with a five point lead statewide. “ By 10 points, more voters say having Hillary Rodham Clinton on the ticket would make it less likely they would vote for Obama.”

Here in Michigan Obama leads by six points and has an eight point lead among independents. Even though Clinton technically won in the state’s primary (thanks to being the only major candidate on the ballot), “by a two-to-one margin they oppose his choosing Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate.”

In Minnesota Obama leads  by twenty-one points among independents. “ By 16 points, independents would rather he not pick Hillary Rodham Clinton as his vice presidential running mate, though they’re closely divided over whether that would make them likelier or less likely to back the Democratic ticket.”

Obama Responds to Attack from James Dobson

Barack Obama has responded to the attack from James Dobson on his radio show yesterday. Dobson was criticizing a 2006 speech which I quoted from here and posted the video of here. AP reports:

Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane before landing in Los Angeles, Obama said the speech made the argument that people of faith, like himself, “try to translate some of our concerns in a universal language so that we can have an open and vigorous debate rather than having religion divide us.”

Obama added, “I think you’ll see that he was just making stuff up, maybe for his own purposes.”

Making stuff up? Yes, Dobson is known to do that, as I’ve pointed out here and here.

While I have concentrated on the political aspects of their differences in applying religious beliefs to public policy, Steve Benen also points out how Dobson has also been wrong on theological grounds:

Dobson believes in a literal interpretation of every word in the Christian Bible. Obama, in his ‘06 speech, pointed to specific passages from the Christian Bible. As such, as far as Dobson is concerned, Obama was “distorting” the “traditional understanding” of the Bible? Something doesn’t add up here — if every word of Scripture is literally true, how can anyone distort the Bible by pointing to specific passages?

“Traditional understanding” sounds like some kind of liberal, mamby-pamby, after-the-fact interpretation of the Bible’s plain text, when Dobson is supposed to be, to borrow an expression, a strict constructionist.

Indeed, there’s a bunch of great examples from the Old Testament. Parents can stone a misbehaving child; fathers can sell daughters into slavery; garments made of two different kinds of threads are a real no-no; the list goes on and on. Dobson, on the one hand, believes every word of the Bible is literally true. Dobson, on the other hand, also argues we shouldn’t believe every word of the Bible is literally true but should instead accept a “traditional understanding” of the Bible. To do otherwise, is to “distort” Scripture.

Ultimately, Dobson apparently wants the focus to remain on the New Testament. Note to Dr. Jim: Christians are supposed to embrace both Testaments.

Libertarian Party History and Bob Barr

It might be time for the Libertarian Party to rewrite the page of their web site on their history. On a tip from The Rothenberg Political Report I found a curious item in their history. Among their claimed accomplishments for 2002 is this item:

The “Incumbent Killer” strategy was used to control elections the LP could not yet win. It led to the defeat of Republican Congressman Bob Barr and Democratic Senator Max Cleland. It was also credited with controlling the outcome of the governor’s races in Alabama, Wisconsin, and Oregon, and the US Senate race in South Dakota.

I’m not sure that anyone outside of the Libertarian Party has ever given them credit for defeating incumbents such as Bob Barr and Max Cleland. Besides the questionable validity of this claim, do they really want to brag about having defeated the person who they nominated as their presidential candidate this year?

Illegal Hiring Practices at the Justice Department

One of the abuses of Republican one-party rule was the politicalization of portions of the government which in the past were far less partisan. The Justice Department’s inspector general has released the first in a series of reports following the firing of nine U.S. attorneys on political grounds. The report shows that the Justice Department illegally used “political or ideological” criteria for hiring:

“Many qualified candidates” were rejected for the department’s honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.”

The shift began in 2002, when advisers to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft restructured the honors program in response to what some officials saw as a liberal tilt in recruiting young lawyers from elite law schools like Harvard and Yale. While the recruitment was once controlled largely by career officials in each section who would review applications, political officials in the department began to assume more control, rejecting candidates with liberal or Democratic affiliations “at a significantly higher rate” than those with Republican or conservative credentials, the report said.

The shift appeared to accelerate in 2006, under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with two aides on the screening committee — Michael Elston and Esther Slater McDonald — singled out for particular criticism. The blocking of applicants with liberal credentials appeared to be a particular problem in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which has seen an exodus of career employees in recent years as the department has pursued a more conservative agenda in deciding what types of cases to bring.

Applications that contained what were seen as “leftist commentary” or “buzz words” like environmental and social justice were often grounds for rejecting applicants, according to e-mails reviewed by the inspector general’s office. Membership in liberal organizations like the American Constitution Society, Greenpeace, or the Poverty and Race Research Action Council were also seen as negative marks.

While supporting social justice was a negative, needless to say membership in the Federalist Society was a big plus.

Obama on Religion, The Video

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Earlier I quoted from Barack Obama’s keynote adress to the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference, following the attacks on this from James Dobson. I have added a video clip of a portion of this speech above.

Many States Turning Down Funds for Abstinence Based Education

If Republicans are really the strong opponents of governments using taxpayers’ money in a wasteful manner as they claim to be, you would expect them to be oppose a program from the federal government which experts have proven to be worthless. This has not been the case, as the Bush administration has continued to back abstinence education programs despite considerable evidence that they are ineffective. Fortunately many state governments are more sensible than the Bush administration and are now turning down funds for the programs. AP reports that about half the states are now opting out:

The funding stream became inconsistent. We didn’t know from one quarter to the next whether we’d be getting the rest of the money,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “We got to the point where we didn’t have any infrastructure to put the money to use. At the same time, there was mounting evidence the abstinence programs weren’t proving to be effective.”

Throw in a rising pregnancy rate among 15-19 year-olds in Idaho — 2,543 pregnancies in 2006 compared with 2,396 in 2004 — and state officials decided last summer it was time to get out.

This should be high on the list of remnants of the Bush administration for the Democrats to eliminate.

Dodd and Feingold Plan to Filibuster FISA Bill

Senators Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold have announced plans to filibuster the FISA bill:

This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

“If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation.

Harry Reid has announced support:

“Unfortunately, the FISA compromise bill establishes a process where the likely outcome is immunity to the telecommunications carriers who participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program. Sen. Reid remains opposed to retroactive immunity, which undermines efforts to hold the Bush Administration accountable for violating the law. Thus, he will cosponsor the amendment offered by Senators Dodd and Feingold to strip out the immunity provision, and support their efforts to strip immunity on the floor. “

While I support both their plans to filibuster and their opposition to retroactive immunity, I will mention once again that I am far more concerned about the provisions which provide for insufficient protections of civil liberties in the future than I am about what happened in the past. I hope that drawing the line on retroactive immunity we don’t wind up winning on this while giving everything else away. If faced with the choice of a good FISA bill which adequately protects civil liberties in the future but which also contains retroactive immunity or the current bill minus the retroactive immunity, I’d go with the first choice. Maybe enough Democrats will stick together, being in the majority after all, to prevent both negative aspects of the bill from being passed. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing the telecommunications companies lose out on what appears to have been an effort to buy votes.

With regards to Democrats sticking together, this means you, Barack. The Senate is a deliberative body. Should, as a consequence of hearing such deliberations, you change your mind, I certainly will not think any less of you. Changing one’s mind when they have made a mistake is only a sin to the small minded people on the far right who are obsessed with flip-flops.

Sure, I’ll vote for Obama regardless of what he does on this bill, knowing that the alternative is far worse, but I would sure respect him more if he stood firm on this civil liberties issue. I’m sure he is looking at the political ramifications, but with a second poll now showing a double digit lead, he can afford to stand up for principle.

As long as the Democrats act as if they are afraid of being labeled as being soft on terrorism, the Republicans will be able to use this against them. Ultimately the Democrats need to stand up for liberal principles, and this is the year in which voters appear to be most receptive to listening.  By going along with this compromise, the Democrats are allowing the Republican line to go unchallenged, perpetuating the illusion that the Republican approach is effective in defending the country when they are actually both undermining civil liberties and pursuing policies which are not necessary for our national security. Ultimately the only way the Democrats can end their problem of being portrayed as being weaker on national security is to face the Republicans head on and make respect for civil liberties a bigger part of the pubic discussion.

Obama’s 2006 Speech on Religion

In discussing James Dobson’s attack on Obama yesterday I used a quotation I had handy to illustrate Obama’s viewpoint which Dobson is attacking. I’ve since dug up the actual speech at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference which Dobson is referring to. The transcript is available here.

Obama discussed the relationship between religion and government. He supported more consideration of religion than is common among liberals but also stressed the limitations of using religion as the basis for public policy. He also recognizes that religious views will influence public debate on issues of morality but that morality is not limited to religion:

But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they’re something they’re not. They don’t need to do that. None of us need to do that.

Later in the speech Obama discussed the point which I referred to in the earlier post and which Dobson is attacking:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Talk to Action also discusses Dobson’s attacks, along with his denial of separation of church and state. They conclude:

Dobson and Obama can disagree all they want about the proper interpretation of the Bible. But Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for twelve years, while James Dobson has a long record of issuing utterly spurious declarations about the constitution with complete conviction.