SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who Movie, Return of Sarah Connor, Premiers of Fringe and True Blood

Considering how rare it has been for me to get this out on Fridays since the political campaign has heated up, I’ve retitled this SciFi Weekend in place of SciFi Friday. Still I’ll begin with a story on a show from SciFi Channel’s SciFi Friday line up–Doctor Who.

So far David Tennant is only committed to return as The Doctor for some specials scheduled for next season, being too busy appearing in Hamlet to do a full season. Tennant has desired to continue to perform on the stage and to do movies, leading to fears he will not return for another full season. The BBC is now trying to entice him to return for a full fifth season of Doctor Who in 2010 by also adding a Doctor Who movie to the deal. Russell T. Davies said he would like Catherine Zeta Jones to play The Doctor’s companion in the movie.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles returned for a second season last week creating questions as to whether Cameron can be trusted. Changes in Cameron will only be one aspect of the upcoming season. SciFi Wire has an interview with Josh Friedman, the creator and executive producer of the show, which reveals we will see more of the post-apocalyptic future and time travel will be used in again on the show. He discussed how using time travel helps the show:

One, is people can sit around and talk about it. Two, you can see future war stuff, and three, you can bring people back. … Last season, for a lot of people, I think, it really took off when Brian [as Derek Reese] came back. I think that’s, one, due to the fact that Brian was fantastic when he came back. … Two, the character that he’s playing, in terms of being a Reese and that kind of thing. But I also think that what he represents is he’s an embodiment of Judgment Day, of the war. And I think he comes back kind of traumatized in a way that really brings the future to the present in a really visceral way, makes people care about the stakes.

I think you see it on somebody. He’s a war veteran; you see it. So I think that it’s an important part of the show to bring people back sometimes, whether it’s another person or a Terminator. … You have to get used to the fact. It’s not a revolving door, but it definitely … opens more often than people are used to in the movies. But the movie only got to send two people back, and they were rolling around for two hours. I think our per-minute sending people back is actually much lower than the movies.

Two new genre shows premiered last week. In Fringe J.J. Abrams gives us a combination of Lost, The X-Files, and Alias. I wasn’t very impressed by the pilot but I’ve learned to give shows like this a little longer. For whatever it is worth, I stopped watching Alias soon after it started and ignored X-Files. Later I had go back and catch up on them after I found that as they developed there was far more to each than was apparent at the start. (Actually the conclusion of X-Files showed I might have been right about it at the start.) Fringe provides suggestions of lots of unusual things going on and, as with Lost, the success of the show will depend upon how well they create mysteries to keep viewers hooked while providing enough information to keep them satisfied. TV Guide provides some answers to questions viewers might have about the show while Popular Mechanics looks at the science.

Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under , has returned to HBO with True Blood and I quickly became more hooked on this one than Fringe. The premise, based upon the novels by Charlaine Harris, is that the Japenese have developed a synthetic blood which satisfies all the nutritional needs of vampires, allowing them to live out in the open. We see a vampire rights advocate being interviewed by Bill Maher and in the second episode there was a magazine cover announcing that Angelina is adopting a vampire baby.

The actual storyline centers around a waitress, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) who becomes involved with vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Sookie can read minds, which is one reason she is attracted to Bill. Being that she can read minds, she has trouble dating because she quickly realized what every guy around her is thinking (just as you are thinking as you view the picture of her above). She is unable to read Bill’s mind, which is far more peacful than overhearing the thoughts of everyone around her.

Panthers Back Sarah Palin

Panthers are Proud Americans Needing Token Hillary Estrogen Replacement. Learn in the video above about women who are planning to vote for Sarah Palin because she is a woman.

Palin Received Little Executive Experience in Wasilla

The McCain campaign has cited Palin’s executive experience in Wasilla as preparing her to be president but reviews of her actual record do not substantiate this. The Washington Post looked at her record as mayor and found this position provided little experience,with Paliln having hired a “deputy administrator to handle much of the town’s day-to-day management.”

Palin says her time as mayor taught her how to be a leader and grounded her in the real needs of voters, and her tenure revealed some of the qualities she would later display as governor: a striving ambition, a willingness to cut loose those perceived as disloyal and a populist brand of social and pro-growth conservatism.

But a visit to this former mining supply post 40 miles north of Anchorage shows the extent to which Palin’s mayoralty was also defined by what it did not include. The universe of the mayor of Wasilla is sharply circumscribed even by the standards of small towns, which limited Palin’s exposure to issues such as health care, social services, the environment and education.

Firefighting and schools, two of the main elements of local governance, are handled by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the regional government for a huge swath of central Alaska. The state has jurisdiction over social services and environmental regulations such as stormwater management for building projects.

With so many government services in the state subsidized by oil revenue, and with no need to provide for local schools, Wasilla has also made do with a very low property tax rate — cut altogether by Palin’s successor — sparing it from the tax battles that localities elsewhere must deal with. Instead, the city collects a 2 percent sales tax, the bulk of which is paid by people who live outside town and shop at its big-box stores.

The mayor oversees a police department created three years before Palin took office; the public works department; the parks and recreation department; a planning office; a library; and a small history museum. Council meetings are in the low-ceilinged basement of the town hall, a former school, and often the only residents who show up to testify are two gadflies. When Palin was mayor, the population was just 5,500.

Palin limited her duties further by hiring a deputy administrator to handle much of the town’s day-to-day management. Her top achievement as mayor was the construction of an ice rink, a project that landed in the courts and cost the city more than expected.

Arriving in office, Palin herself played down the demands of the job in response to residents who worried that her move to oust veteran officials would leave the town in the lurch. “It’s not rocket science,” Palin said, according to the town newspaper, the Frontiersman. “It’s $6 million and 53 employees.”

Further constraining City Hall’s role is the frontier philosophy that has prevailed in Wasilla, a town that was founded in 1917 as a stop along the new railroad from Anchorage to the gold mines further north. The light hand of government is evident in the town’s commercial core, essentially a haphazard succession of big-box stores, fast-food restaurants and shopping plazas.

The only semblance of an original downtown is a small collection of historic cabins that have been gathered for display in a grassy area beside a shopping center. Most residents live in ranch houses scattered through the woods. Churches, offices, stores and most other buildings are made of corrugated metal or composite materials. Standing in contrast to the utilitarian architecture are the lakes and majestic peaks.

Many of those in town were astonished to learn that Palin had been named McCain’s running mate six years after leaving City Hall.

“I was happy in a way, because it is a new beginning for the country, but also I am very worried due to her lack of experience,” said Darlene Langill, a self-described arch-conservative who served on the City Council during Palin’s first year in office.

Duane Dvorak, the city planner when Palin took office, said the mayor’s ambition had been plain to see, but added: “My sense is that this opportunity maybe came along before she was ready for it or thought it would come along.”

The article repeats many of the reports published elsewhere including her tendency to fire people who were not totally loyal to her and her attempts to ban books from the local library:

Palin took office as mayor in October 1996 with a show of force. She fired the museum director and demanded that the other department heads submit resignation letters, saying she would decide whether to accept them based on their loyalty, according to news reports at the time. She clashed with Police Chief Irl Stambaugh over his push for moving bar closing time from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. and for his opposition to state legislation to allow people to carry guns in banks and bars.

In notes that he took during a meeting in Palin’s first week on the job, Stambaugh wrote that the new mayor told him “that the NRA didn’t like me and that they wanted change,” according to the Seattle Times, which reviewed the notes at a federal archive in Seattle. Stambaugh was fired on Jan. 30, 1997, partly, the mayor said, because he had not taken seriously her request for a weekly progress report “on at least two positive examples of work that was started, how we helped the public, how we saved the City money, how we helped the state, how we helped Uncle Sam.” Stambaugh filed a wrongful-termination suit, which he lost.

Palin also differed with the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons. The Frontiersman reported at the time that Palin asked Emmons three times in her first weeks in office whether she would agree to remove controversial books. The librarian said she would not. The McCain campaign has confirmed Palin’s questions but said that she never demanded removal of any specific books. Palin also fired Emmons on Jan. 30 but reinstated her after an uproar.

Alaska Women Reject Palin Rally

Not everyone in Alaska is excited about Sarah Palin being on the Republican ticket. Mudflats, whose coverage of Alaska politics has suddenly made it one of the hotter blogs around, reports on an Alaska Women Reject Palin rally which coincided with Palin’s return to Alaska. Mudflats reports that more people attended this rally than the rally welcoming Palin home and that it was the biggest political rally ever in the history of the state.

McCain Has Even Gone Too Far For Karl Rove

Even Karl Rove has conceded that John McCain has stepped over the line in his recent ads. On Fox News Sunday Rove said:

“McCain has gone in some of his ads — similarly gone one step too far,” he told Fox News, “and sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the ‘100 percent truth’ test.”

The Obama campaign quickly responded:

“In case anyone was still wondering whether John McCain is running the sleaziest, most dishonest campaign in history, today Karl Rove — the man who held the previous record — said McCain’s ads have gone too far,” said campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor

Andrew Sullivan comments:

Isn’t history poignant at times? John McCain who once prided himself on not being Karl Rove will now, in fact, go down in history as too disgusting and despicable for even Karl Rove to support.

Not surprisingly Rove was also critical of Obama, but there is hardly any comparison between the ads from the two. McCain supporters have criticized Obama for his ad which mentions McCain’s computer illiteracy, claiming that McCain does not use a computer due to war injuries. Previous articles on this subject have quoted McCain as speaking of his lack of knowledge of computers, not physical limitations due to war injuries. He is also known to have used a Blackberry, raising doubts as to whether he would have difficulty with a keyboard. McCain has also spoken of attempting to become computer literate.

McCain and his supporters have played the POW card too many times to be taken seriously on this. Even if it turns out that this claim is correct, those who made the ad referencing this would not have been aware of this when it contradicts previous statements by McCain. It is certainly possible that McCain might have preferred to refrain from discussing his injuries in the past as McCain had previously shown the dignity of not falling back on his POW experiences at every opportunity as he does this year. An inadvertent criticism which would be inappropriate if McCain’s injuries really do prevent him from using a computer being used in one ad is hardly comparable to a string of ads from McCain which are intentionally dishonest. Hopefully Obama does drop this line of attack, as it is hardly the most important aspect of the campaign, leaving all the questionable ads coming from McCain.

Judicial Appointees–A Far More Important Issue Than You Hear in the Sound Bites

One frustration in watching the presidential campaign play out in sound bites and ads is that neither candidate really gives me much reason to vote for them. Fortunately I know far more about the differences between the candidates than one would see from either the media coverage or the more visible portions of their campaigns. It is only when the real detail of what each candidate stands for is reviewed that the reasons for supporting Obama over McCain become clear. While the real issues which matter are often ignored, sometimes they manage to get discussed, such as in an op-ed by Obama adviser Cass Sunstein in The Boston Globe.

The op-ed is primarily about Roe v. Wade but makes many important points about the overall differences in judicial appointees to expect from each candidate. He notes that overturning Roe v. Wade would hardly be a conservative thing to do, even for those who believe the court went too far in its initial decision:

But it is one thing to object to Roe as written in 1973. It is another to suggest that it should be overruled in 2008. American constitutional law is stable only because of the principle of stare decisis, which means that in general, the Court should respect its own precedents.

Roe v. Wade has been established law for 35 years; the right to choose is now a part of our culture. A decision to overrule it would not only disrupt and polarize the nation; it would also threaten countless doctors, and pregnant women and girls, with jail sentences and criminal fines. As Ginsburg has also urged, Roe v. Wade is now best seen, not only as a case about privacy, but also as involving sex equality.

From there Sunstein moves to the more general argument:

For the future of constitutional rights, there is a broader point, which involves the fragility of many constitutional principles. Of course the Supreme Court tends to move slowly, but some conservatives who speak of “strict construction,” and of “legislating from the bench,” have something quite radical in mind.

For them, these are code words. They seek to appoint judges who will overturn not merely Roe, but dozens of other past decisions. For example, they want judges to impose flat bans on affirmative action, to invalidate environmental regulations, to increase presidential power, and to reduce the separation of church and state. Some Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have already called for significant changes in constitutional law in these domains.

Does all this sound like “strict construction”? Actually there is an uncomfortably close overlap between the constitutional views of some recent Republican appointees to the federal judiciary and the political views of those on the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. There is a good chance that a newly constituted Supreme Court would entrench some of those views into constitutional law.

When McCain and other Republicans speak of supporting justices who will strictly interpret the Constitution what they really mean is that they will appoint justices who agree with their views. These views, which give more power to the government, restrict the rights of individuals, and deny the importance of separation of church and state, promote a  philosophy which is the opposite of the views of the framers of the Constitution.

Live From New York, Tina Fey Does Sarah Palin

Tina Fey and Amy Poeler opened the season of Saturday Night Live portraying a joint appearance between Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Fey did an excellent job capturing Palin, and I have never been so happy to see “Hillary Clinton.” To keep the description simple, I’ll just refer to each of them by the roles they were playing.

When Palin began by saying, “Hillary and I don’t agree on everything” Hillary corrected this phrase to end with “anything.”  Hillary quickly gave one example: “I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.” Palin responded, “And I can see Russia from my house.” Hillary later said, “I don’t agree with the Bush Doctrine.” Palin admitted, “I don’t know what that is,” tying into the obvious lack of knowledge shown in her interview with Charles Gibson.

Both talked about sexism, with Palin concluding by saying, “So in the next six weeks, I invite the media to be vigilant for sexist behavior.” Hillary responded with, “Although it is never sexist to question female politicians credentials.  Please ask this one about dinosaurs.  So I invite the media to grow a pair.  And if you can’t, I will lend you mine.”

There was much more in the skit and I’ll add a video if one becomes available. I certainly hope that Tina Fey will agree to appear on SNL more times before the election and reprise this role. The transcript is under the fold.

Update: The video is now added. Polical Radar reports that, “There were howls of laughter from the sizeable press corps covering Palin’s first foray on the campaign trail.” There was silence from the front of the plane as Palin “has yet to say so much as hello to the press corps.”


Palin Favored Secrecy and Censorship While in Office

The New York Times examines Sarah Palin’s record and finds much of concern. There are two passages in particular which are essential reading. The first provides an example of how she would carry on the tradition of secrecy from the Bush/Cheney administration:

Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

The article also provides further information on Palin’s attempts to censor books which social conservatives objected to:

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Previous information on Palin’s attempts to ban books has been posted here and here.