SciFi Weekend: A Bionic Companion for The Doctor; Mutiny and Cylons; Veronica Mars Movie; and Death of a Robot


Michelle Ryan, who briefly stared in the remake of The Bionic Woman, will play The Doctor’s companion in the next Doctor Who special which will air around Easter.

Ryan will play the mysterious Lady Christina de Souza in the special episode, entitled Planet of the Dead.

“I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who and very excited to be joining David Tennant and the Doctor Who team,” she said.

There has also been speculation that Ryan will be brought back to be a regular on the series as Catherine Tate was after first playing Donna Noble in a Christmas special fifteen months earlier.


This week’s episode  A Disquiet Follows My Soul shows one way they are going to drag out the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica before settling the issues which arose last week. Tom Zarek is starting a mutiny and Gaeta is backing him. Another development was to reveal that Tyrol was not the father of Cally’s baby. Most likely this was done after deciding to make Tyrol one of the final five Cylons as this meant that Cally’s baby appeared to be another half human/half cylon child.


Tom Zarek is placed by Richard Hatch who also played Captain Apollo in the original series. While Hatch plays a sometimes nutty character on the new show, his costar on the original has some strange ideas in real life. Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica series, is a right winger who writes in Big Hollywood how the remake isn’t as good as the original due to its liberal viewpoint. (Hat tip to Cliqueclack.) Like many conservatives he prefers that everything be black or white and doesn’t approve of the greater complexity of the current series. Here is his take:

A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy human civilization, one would assume. Indeed, let us not say who the good guys are and who the bad are. That is being “judgmental,” taking sides, and that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Kathryn Hepburn and John Wayne and, well, the original “Battlestar Galactica.”

Big Hollywood is a group blog recently established to try to win the culture war for conservatives.


IO9 has found some information from Life On A Baseship, the “bible” of the Cylons written for the show before season three. We will learn even more about the creation of the Cylons in Caprica. Sci Fi Wire has interviewed Ron Moore about the upcoming series:

For you, is Caprica an opportunity to stay in the Battlestar Galactica universe while at the same time pushing a creative restart button?

Moore: Yeah, well, … I don’t know if it’s reset, but it’s certainly a way of capturing the energy of the first season, of “Well, what is the show? Let’s figure out how we tell stories here. Who are these characters? What’s it about? How are we going to tease the audience? Where are we going to take the show?” So there’s this sense of exploration, there’s this sense of uncharted territory. And that’s exciting, and that’s scary. It’s scary to have to get one of these things off the ground and hope that it’s all going to work out and that people will like it, especially when you know that everyone is going to compare it to Battlestar. But that’s kind of the reason why we’re in the business, is to take on those challenges.

Knowing that you had Caprica on the horizon, did you hold back at all on wrapping up the Cylon mythology in Battlestar Galactica in order to give fans an incentive to tune in to the new show? Or does Battlestar Galactica settle it for everyone?

Moore: Galactica is going to pretty much settle it. Caprica will be about how the people on the colonies developed the Cylons. And that has its own story to tell about how that came about. But in terms of the larger mysteries and mythologies and hows and the whys and how everything lays out on Galactica, we set out to answer as many of the questions that we could by the end of the show, and that’s what we did. We didn’t hold anything in reserve and say, “Oh, well, we’ll deal with this over in Caprica.”


iF  Magazine is making it sound like a Veronica Mars movie really might be made. Rob Thomas has some additional free time since his current series, Cupid, is being cut from thirteen episodes to eight.

“That means I have time to write the VERONICA MARS movie,” he says. “But my writing the movie is half the battle. Someone else has to pay for it. Joel Silver does have a certain pile of money. He called on me saying ‘Can we do this now?’ Kristen wants to do it. Joel wants to do it and I want to do it. For me, that’s the next project.”

Although he wouldn’t reveal exactly what the story would be, he did tell iF, “it’s 70 percent broken in my head.”

“I’ve been struggling with this one plot point and I’m hopeful to figure that out,” he adds. “I watched the final episode of the series a few weeks ago and there were a lot of gaps and the plotting for the original came to me. I mean for the movie, I’m feeling like I’m on the right track now. But I don’t want to give that away yet.

In terms of cast, Thomas says he’s talked with Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni and Kristen Bell.

“Obviously,” he says with a smile.

And while there were always talks of the character of Veronica Mars ending up at the F.B.I., he says that’s not where the movie will be heading.

“The one thing that I will say is where it will pick up,” says Thomas. “I know we did that F.B.I. ‘what if’ thing, but we would not go to that place. I think it would open just days before the Hearst College Graduation. So Veronica would be sort of at the end of her college career.


Drew Berrymore is hoping for another Charlie’s Angels movie.


Bob May, best known for playing the robot on Lost in Space, died last Sunday of congestive heart failure at age 69.

Forbes Prompts Discussion Of The Meaning Of Liberalism

The recent article by Forbes on The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media, which I previously discussed here, has led to further discussion about the meaning of liberalism.  Defining political labels is complicated by the changing nature of these labels, as I noted in yesterday’s post on how Neither Goldwater nor Reagan Would Recognize The Modern GOP. Both the meaning of liberal and conservative have changed over time.

A problem with political labels is that they often lump together people with very different view points while dividing people who agree on many issues. While some people fit in well with the party orthodoxy of either the Democrats or Republicans and therefore fit one possible definition of liberal or conservative, others of us do not.

Andrew Sullivan presents an example of someone who labels do not work well for. He calls himself a conservative, but his views differ so much from current Republican views that many on the right, along with Forbes, consider him a liberal. Sullivan presents examples where he does not fit the definition given for the article which ranks him as one of the most influential liberals, but this does not entirely settle the question as Forbes only said that “a ‘liberal’ subscribes to some or all of” a number of positions.

Sullivan has wisely decided that it is not of much concern whether others label him a liberal or conservative. He points out that some conservatives do not consider him to be conservative due to their homophobia and because “conservatism has become a religious movement.” He commented on the mind set of conservatives which has lead to them writing him out of their movement:

For the record: self-confident political groupings seek converts – look at Obama. Failed and failing political groupings seek to punish and list heretics. I’m resigned to being a heretic given the state of the current conservative movement. And as an independent writer, it mercifully can’t hurt me much. I just don’t think conservatism will revive until it stops thinking that way.

In a follow up post Sullivan looked at other views on this subject and acknowledged that his views do overlap with the views of many who are now labeled as liberal. He is still sticking with the conservative label, and defending his view of the meaning of conservatism, but not  out of opposition to liberals he shares views with. He concluded, ” I am more than happy to share the term liberalism with others. I am not going to have the word conservative coopted solely by these religious radicals.”

Although I noted that many of the liberals listed by Forbes, including by not limited to Sullivan, would not be considered liberals by many people, I was not really surprised by the composition of the list. Many on the extreme right consider everyone who does not share their extreme views to be liberals. This  list also helps them defend their fantasy that they are under attack by a mythical liberal media by simply defining virtually everyone, even centrists and moderate conservatives, as liberals. Sam Wang takes this a step further and finds potential benefits in conservatives defining non-liberals in the media as liberals:

Perhaps the practical criterion was “liberals plus people who annoy us Republican loyalists.” In this light the list makes more sense. Too bad they didn’t pause to consider that many of these people annoy quite a broad political demographic.

There’s a second advantage to defining liberalism in a way that includes nonideological or middle-of-the-road pundits. It never hurts to work the referee, i.e. call someone liberal as a way of getting him/her to lean further rightward. In this light, the inclusion of the NYT and WaPo op-ed directors (Shipley and Hiatt) as well as the WSJ news director (Seib) makes perfect sense. Even assuming these three people are actual liberals, in practice they don’t carry out editorial policies that lean left. For example, they publish Brooks, Kristol, Krauthammer, and Dowd.

Forbes can also get away with this because there are no firm definitions to use to judge them. Liberalism has many possible definitions. When I use liberal in the name of this blog, I am referring to liberalism in both its broad historical sense and with consideration of the variations in meaning internationally, as opposed to indicating support for any narrow partisan views. Some have suggested that I use the term classical liberalism instead, but I have preferred to leave this open, not wanting to be concerned about whether any specific views I hold fit into this label. Recent events have also forced me to tolerate more government activity in the economy than I would have previously supported.  I have given  homage to the birth of classical liberalism, and its stress on both personal and economic liberty, during the enlightenment in the subheading of the blog title.

My views are sometimes described as socially liberal and economically conservative, but in recent years I have used this terminology less as the Republicans have, despite their rhetoric, become increasing hostile to capitalism while an increasing number of liberals have adopted views which previously would have been considered economic conservatism. While Republicans might call themselves capitalists, I see them more as the party of Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls, Dick Cheney’s energy task force, the K Street Project, and the general philosophy of distorting free market principles to justify allowing the fox to guard the hen house.

Timothy Ash reviewed the various ways in which liberal is used in The New York Times. He began by noting that “Like many of Mr. Obama’s speeches, the Inaugural Address presented, in substance, a blend of classical constitutional and modern egalitarian liberalism. The thing, but never the word.” From there he discussed how the word liberal has fallen into disfavor due to attacks from the right.  (He also noted that Hillary Clinton has avoided the word liberal, but in her case I would classify her more as a socially conservative populist and do not consider her to be a liberal.) Ash notes how the word liberalism is used around the world:

Interestingly, what is furiously attacked as “liberalism” in France, and in much of Central and Eastern Europe, is precisely what is most beloved of the libertarian or “fiscal conservative” strand of the American right. When French leftists and Polish populists denounce “liberalism,” they mean Anglo-Saxon-style, unregulated free-market capitalism. (Occasionally the prefix neo- or ultra- is added to make this clear.)

One Chinese intellectual told us that in his country, “Liberalism means everything the government doesn’t like.” The term is used in China as a political instrument to attack, in particular, advocates of further market-oriented economic reform. Standards of what counts as socially or culturally liberal also vary widely. An Indian speaker wryly observed that in India a “liberal” father is one who allows his children to choose whom they want to marry.

Ash tried to provide a minimal definition of liberalism, while still noting the variations in its use around the world, and noting that many Americans hold liberal views even if they avoid the term:

A plausible minimum list of ingredients for 21st century liberalism would include liberty under law, limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress. The mix of ingredients differs from place to place. Whether some distant cousin really belongs to the extended family of liberalisms is a matter of healthy dispute. But somewhere in this contested, evolving combination there is a thing of enduring value.

This has been an American argument, some would say the American argument, for more than 200 years. In fact, the United States is still full of liberals, both progressive or left liberals and, I would insist, conservative or right liberals. Most of them just don’t use the word. Liberalism is the American love that dare not speak its name.

For obvious reasons, we are now witnessing worldwide criticism of a version of pure free-market liberalism, a k a neo-liberalism, charged with having led us into our current economic mess. Yet, our Chinese and European colleagues agreed that markets remain an indispensable condition of liberty. One leading Chinese economic reformer even suggested that there is less income inequality in those Chinese provinces where the market plays a larger role.

Ash’s minimal definition of liberalism fits in well with how I have used the word here, primarily based upon values including support for  individual liberty, free markets, restoring Constitutional limitations on the power of government, equality, science, and reason.

The West Wing on Steroids


The West Wing gave viewers the feeling of seeing how an idealized White House works from the inside.  The initial concept, before President Bartlett, and later Santos, became major characters, was to concentrate on those who worked in the West Wing far more than the president. Not surprisingly, there are now many articles about how the Obama White House operates, even though it has only been in operation for a short time. All reports suggest that The West Wing was accurate in portraying modern presidencies as concentrating on the West Wing staff as opposed to the cabinet.

Cabinet officials played a relatively minor role on The West Wing and, while their importance in the real world is greater than portrayed, the West Wing is really where the action is. The Politico describes the Obama White House as being dominated by a West Wing on steroids.

Not even a week has passed since he was sworn in, but already Obama is moving to create perhaps the most powerful staff in modern history – a sort of West Wing on steroids that places no less than a half-dozen of his top initiatives into the hands of advisers outside the Cabinet.

For all the talk of his “Team of Rivals” pick in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama last week handed the two hottest hotspots in American foreign policy to presidential envoys – one to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and the other to a man who knows his way around Foggy Bottom better than Clinton does, Richard Holbrooke.

The State Department represents a special case as Hillary Clinton was largely placed there to prevent her from having a separate power base to cause trouble from the Senate and it was expected that foreign policy would be run from the White House to circumvent her. (It would have been hard to send Hillary to Gitmo when Obama is promising to close it.)

While the Secretary of State is a special case, a similar pattern of concentrating power in the White House is also seen in other areas. One reason is that many problems involve more than one Cabinet agency and it is helpful to have someone at the White House who can coordinate action involving different government agencies.

“Some of the Cabinet agencies were created before the most pressing issues of today,” this aide said. “To have people cut through a bureaucracy that doesn’t match the times we’re in is just more effective.”

What’s notable about Obama’s approach – and expands on the approaches taken by Bush and Bill Clinton – is the number of different areas where Obama is seeking to tap a central figure, outside the Cabinet structure, who will carry out his wishes.

Handling a prized portfolio of issues including national security, homeland security, the economy and energy are a handful of super-staffers who could just as easily have filled top Cabinet posts: National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan, Director of National Economic Council Larry Summers and likely Urban Policy director Adolfo Carrion.

Summers and Browner bring significant stature as Cabinet veterans in the Clinton administration, having served, respectively, as Treasury Secretary and EPA director. Carrion was considered for HUD secretary. Jones, a retired Marine four-star general and former head of NATO, has the credentials to be Defense Secretary.

Concentrating power in the West Wing allows Obama to choose the advisers he most trusts to handle various issues, along with bypassing the need for Senate approval in the case of possibly controversial choices. Proximity to the president also gives West Wing staffers greater influence. Tom Daschle is one exception who fills the role of both a member of the cabinet and health-reform czar:

Tom Daschle scored a ground floor office in the West Wing not by running Health and Human Services – but because of his role as Obama’s health-reform czar…

Daschle’s most important job for Obama isn’t running the massive agency, the Cabinet duties. It’s designing and implementing a health-care overhaul – and Daschle reportedly pushed to make sure the health reform job would part of his portfolio if he took the agency slot.

Location has been important for years, including in the Reagan administration:

Obama’s moves formalize what White House veterans have always known – the Cabinet is close to a president, his White House team closer and more influential.

“The only people who believe a Cabinet government exists are political scientists,” observed Ken Duberstein, a former Chief of Staff to President Reagan. “Location, location, location – proximity to the president is always what matters.”

Hillary Clinton had an office in the West Wing when her husband was president. The importance of the West Wing was also seen under George Bush:

Bush had powerful foreign and national security policy figures in his first-term Cabinet, but his domestic policy came entirely out of a White House in which figures such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were indisputably the Decider’s deciders. Cheney, especially, played a decisive role in setting economic and energy policy, was often the administration’s top Capitol Hill liaison and kept close watch on nominations and appointments.

“Every administration in recent years has worked to centralize power in the White House.” observed Bruce Reed, who served at the time as White House domestic policy chief under Clinton and now leads the Democratic Leadership Council. “In difficult times, with a host of front-burner issues, the president wants a lot of top people close to him.”

Cabinet agencies may only be a few blocks away, but their distance in practice is far more vast. It’s the White House staff that has the president’s ear, that briefs him each day and fields his questions and complaints. It’s here where decisions are most often made, not in the full-dress Cabinet sessions.

If the West Wing staff runs the government, then the chief of staff might be the second most powerful person in post-Cheney Washington (with the president now moving up to number one). The New York Times has a profile on Rahm Emanuel (who sounds as influential as Leo McGarry was on The West Wing):

Mr. Emanuel is arguably the second most powerful man in the country and, just a few days into his tenure, already one of the highest-profile chiefs of staff in recent memory. He starred in his own Mad magazine cartoon, won the “Your New Obama Hottie” contest on and has become something of a paparazzi icon around Washington.

In recent months, he has played a crucial role in the selection and courtship of nearly every cabinet member and key White House staff member.

Renowned as a fierce partisan, he has been an ardent ambassador to Republicans, including Mr. Obama’s defeated rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona. He has exerted influence on countless decisions; in meetings, administration officials say, Mr. Obama often allows him to speak first and last.

“You can see how he listens and reacts to Rahm,” said Ron Klain, the chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “You can see that his opinion is being shaped.”

Obama’s Top Secret PDA


Barack Obama already seems a bit like a superhero, or at least a character in a superhero comic. Now he looks a bit like a James Bond. After all the fuss over whether Obama can keep his BlackBerry, it looks like Obama will be using a  P.D.A. far more advanced than the one John McCain allegedly invented. Gadgetwise describes Obama’s new P.D.A.:

The nation’s e-mailer in chief may be carrying something called a Sectéra Edge, which is made by the military contractor General Dynamics (you know, the submarine people). The product description reads: “Developed for the National Security Agency’s Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME PED) program, the Sectéra Edge is certified to protect wireless voice communications classified Top Secret and below as well as access e-mail and Web sites classified Secret and below.”

The Sectéra looks like most P.D.A.’s, and operates like one when in normal mode. But a press of a button on the front of the device engages “classified mode” (for added effect, the screen background turns red when this mode is activated). It works on GSM and CDMA networks (AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint support the device, according to the company’s Web site), and will be able to get on Wi-Fi networks sometime in the third quarter of this year. It operates on a Windows Mobile platform.

For there to be secure communications between two parties, both must have a device that conforms to the necessary encryption protocols. That can include portable units like the Edge, but also landline phones and computers. Mobile calls or e-mail messages between Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama’s civilian P.D.A. would most likely have to take place in nonsecure mode, as family members of the president rarely have the necessary security clearance to warrant such a device.

Another thing that makes the Sectéra Edge fairly thin on the ground: each unit costs $3,350. It is unclear if its price drops to $19.99 with a two-year contract, but it seems unlikely.

This sure makes an iPhone look cheap with a $3,350 price tag. For most people the real cost of a smart phone isn’t the cost of the device but the monthly charges for the data plan. Do they charge the White  House extra for the added security or do regular network prices apply?