Tina Fey Does Sarah Palin Again

Tina Fey reprised her impersonation of Sarah Palin for Inside The Actor’s Studio last week (video above). This included “Palin” discussing guns saying,  “if everybody had guns, there would be fewer guns in the stores.”

Tina Fey can also be seen impersonating Sarah Palin here, here, here, here, and links to her older appearances are here.

The IRS Has Made Perhaps The Worst Star Trek Parody Ever–And We Paid For It

While the sequester is a terrible way to cut spending, failing to differentiate between useful and wasteful government spending, it is bringing more attention areas where spending could be cut. The IRS is under attack for spending $60,000 of taxpayer’s money for the above Star Trek parody and a second video based on Gilligan’s Island. It begins:

“Space: the final frontier
These are the voyagers of the Starship Enterprise Y
Its never-ending mission is to seek out new tax forms
To explore strange new regulations
To boldly go where no government employee has gone before.”

CBS News filed a Freedom of Information request asking for the video after the IRS earlier refused to turn over a copy to the congressional committee that oversees tax issues: House Ways and Means. According to committee Chairman Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-LA), the video was produced in the IRS’s own television studio in New Carrollton, MD. The studio may have cost taxpayers more than $4 million dollars last year alone.

According to a statement from the IRS, the “Star Trek” video (see above) was created to open a 2010 IRS training and leadership conference.

“Back in Russia, I dreamed someday I’d be rich and famous,” says one crew member in the parody.

“Me too,” agrees another. “That’s why I became a public servant.”

And the two fist bump.

A separate skit based on the television show “Gilligan’s Island” was also recorded, but the IRS did not provide that video. The IRS told Congress the cost of producing the two videos was thought to be about $60,000 dollars.

IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller said in a statement that one of the two videos was played in 400 locations and saved taxpayers $1.5 million over what it would have cost to train employees in person.

I have no problem with the idea of making training videos which save money as opposed to training employees in person but I fail to see how the above video would be of any value. The idea is promote the value of the IRS to society by showing an alien planet degenerating into anarchy without a good tax collection system. It fails to do a good job of presenting this message. It also has terrible acting (as might be expected from IRS employees) and looks amateurish compared to many other pieces of fan videos available on line.

I also fail to see how the IRS can justify refusing to turn a copy of this over to the House Ways and Means Committee, requiring CBS to use the Freedom of Information Act to get a copy.

The IRS agrees that making this video was a mistake.

Bonus Quote of the Day

“President Obama filled out his NCAA tournament bracket. He picked Florida, Indiana, Louisville, and Ohio State to go to the Final Four. Crazy that it’s been four months since the election, and he still needs Florida and Ohio to win.” –Jimmy Fallon

Quote of the Day

“Have you been watching ‘The Bible’? They have a character who plays Satan, and he looks a little bit like President Obama. And I thought, ‘If President Obama was actually Satan, Republicans might be willing to deal with him.'” –David Letterman

American Academy of Pediatrics Backs Same Sex Marriage

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a policy statement supporting gay marriage, finding that having two parents is best for optimal health and well-being of all children. They point out that research has shown similar benefits regardless of whether children are raised by parents of the same or different genders:

To promote optimal health and well-being of all children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports access for all children to (1) civil marriage rights for their parents and (2) willing and capable foster and adoptive parents, regardless of the parents’ sexual orientation. The AAP has always been an advocate for, and has developed policies to support, the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being of all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. In so doing, the AAP has supported families in all their diversity, because the family has always been the basic social unit in which children develop the supporting and nurturing relationships with adults that they need to thrive. Children may be born to, adopted by, or cared for temporarily by married couples, nonmarried couples, single parents, grandparents, or legal guardians, and any of these may be heterosexual, gay or lesbian, or of another orientation. Children need secure and enduring relationships with committed and nurturing adults to enhance their life experiences for optimal social-emotional and cognitive development. Scientific evidence affirms that children have similar developmental and emotional needs and receive similar parenting whether they are raised by parents of the same or different genders. If a child has 2 living and capable parents who choose to create a permanent bond by way of civil marriage, it is in the best interests of their child(ren) that legal and social institutions allow and support them to do so, irrespective of their sexual orientation. If 2 parents are not available to the child, adoption or foster parenting remain acceptable options to provide a loving home for a child and should be available without regard to the sexual orientation of the parent(s).

The New York Times report includes additional background information:

The academy cited research finding that a child’s well-being is much more affected by the strength of relationships among family members and a family’s social and economic resources than by the sexual orientation of the parents. “There is an emerging consensus, based on extensive review of the scientific literature, that children growing up in households headed by gay men or lesbians are not disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents,” the academy said.

A large body of evidence demonstrates that children raised by gay or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive and social functioning as peers raised by heterosexuals, the academy said.

One study in England compared 39 families with lesbian mothers to 74 heterosexual parents and 60 families headed by single heterosexual women. No difference was found between the groups in emotional involvement, abnormal behaviors in children as reported by parents or teachers, or psychiatric disorders in them. Both mothers and teachers reported more behavioral problems among children in single-parent families than two-parent ones, whatever their sexual orientation.

A 2010 study of children born to 154 lesbian parents in the United States compared mothers’ reports of their 17-year-olds to a national sample of age-matched peers. The mothers’ reports indicated that their sons and daughters had high levels of competence and fewer social problems, compared with their peers.

“Marriage strengthens families and benefits child development, and it also increases a parent’s sense of competence and security when they are able to raise children without stigma,” said Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

 

Religious Right Fears Losing Influence In GOP

The religious right has always had an awkward relationship with the Republican Party. Prior to the Bush years, party regulars wanted their votes, but also regarded them as the kooks of the party and threw them a limited number of bones when in office. Their influence grew when one of their own became president in 2001. Since then it has become clear that, unless they change their ways, the Republican Party is on a path to extinction outside of the deep south and scattered other bible belts. This became painfully obvious to Republican leaders after the 2012 election. Now that the party is trying to change their appearance (but unfortunately too few policies), the religious right is getting nervous:

Some leaders of the religious right are openly worried this week after a sprawling 98-page report released by the Republican National Committee on how the party can rebuild after its 2012 implosion made no mention of the GOP’s historic alliance with grassroots Christian “value voters.”

Specifically, the word “Christian” does not appear once in the party’s 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word “church.” Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found. There is nothing about the need to protect religious liberty, or promote Judeo-Christian values in society. And the few fleeting suggestions that the party coordinate with “faith-based communities” — mostly in the context of minority outreach — receive roughly as much space as the need to become more “inclusive” of gays.

To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.

“The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. “You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.”

Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a “namby-pamby” abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.

The Republicans have  problems both with the viewpoint of the religious right and with the political ramifications of ignoring them. The word “Christian” or any other religious label should not be in a political party’s blueprint, at least if they respect the Founding Fathers and the principle of separation of church and state which this country was founded on. Protecting religious liberty and promoting religious views are mutually exclusive to those who understand what religious liberty means. Of course to the religious right, freedom of religion means their freedom to impose their religious views upon others.

I suspect that even some Republicans understand this, but they also fear what will happen to the party if they lose the grassroots support from the religious right, and if they stay home on election day.

Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC, said the party had no intention of distancing itself from its religious base.

“They are a critical part of our party, and moving forward, they have to continue to play that essential role,” Spicer said. “The goal of the report was to look at areas where we could do much better, and in areas that needs that substantial improvement [working with conservative Christians] may not be at the top of the list because they’ve always done a fabulous job.”

Spicer also insisted that while the GOP hopes to expand its coalition, “the principles in the party are sound” and would not be abandoned. Asked whether opposition to same-sex marriage was among those principles, he said, “Yes.”

Even if the Republicans tone down social issues during campaigns, this does not mean things will change should they win. Some in the religious right are outraged by the report, but others realize that Republicans will promote the same policies on social issues:

On the other hand, Ralph Reed, director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a former campaign adviser to George W. Bush, defended the RNC report, and the establishment leaders who spearheaded it.

“I know most of the members of the committee,” he said. “Some of them are personal friends of mine. I know Reince Priebus. He’s a deeply committed Christian. He’s pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-family… and the Republican Party is going to stay that way.”

 

How Republicans Control Congress After Democrats Received More Votes

Bloomberg  looks at how the Republicans have kept control of the House despite more people voting for Democratic representatives:

More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.

Graphic: 2010 Gains Give Republicans Redistricting Edge

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

This is a rare event:

Still, it’s rare for one party to win more House seats while securing fewer votes than the other party. The last time it happened before 2012 was in 1996, when Democrats won the nationwide House vote by 43.6 million to 43.4 million as Republicans held their majority and Bill Clinton was re-elected president, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s office.

Redistricting is intended to ensure House members represent roughly equal size populations. Yet from the first Congress, party leaders began exploiting the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage, a practice known as gerrymandering.

The greater concentration of Democratic voters in cities also adds to the Republican advantage in House seats. Having more voters concentrated in smaller areas leads to having a smaller number of districts where your candidate will win by large majorities, while the other party might have narrow victories in many other districts. When this gerrymandering is added to this dynamic, the Republicans have had the opportunity to pick up significantly more seats than they would receive if Congressional delegations were strictly proportional to the vote.

The Founding Fathers did not want a pure democracy, but I wonder if they would be happy with this outcome. We have seen occasions such as 2000 a president was elected while losing the popular vote. (2000 also provided even more disturbing problems with the Supreme Court blocking a recount along partisan lines). The Senate is even more intentionally undemocratic, giving the Republicans an advantage by giving small states where they dominate as many Senators as states with much larger populations. Republicans have further exploited their advantage by using the filibuster in ways  never intended to require sixty percent to pass virtually anything.  Historically the House has provided a more democratic outcome, more representative of the voters, but this is no longer the case.

From John Belushi to John Boehner–Bob Woodward’s Problems With Understanding The Facts

Tanner Colby has an interesting look at the type of reporting done by Bob Woodward. Colby had a unique way to fact-check Woodward:

Two years after Belushi died, Bob Woodward published Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi. While the Watergate sleuth might seem an odd choice to tackle such a subject, the book came about because both he and Belushi grew up in the same small town of Wheaton, Ill. They had friends in common. Belushi, who despised Richard Nixon, was a big Woodward fan, and after he died, his widow, Judy Belushi, approached Woodward in his role as a reporter for the Washington Post. She had questions about the LAPD’s handling of Belushi’s death and asked Woodward to look into it. He took the access she offered and used it to write a scathing, lurid account of Belushi’s drug use and death.

When Wired came out, many of Belushi’s friends and family denounced it as biased and riddled with factual errors. “Exploitative, pulp trash,” in the words of Dan Aykroyd. Wired was so wrong, Belushi’s manager said, it made you think Nixon might be innocent. Woodward insisted the book was balanced and accurate. “I reported this story thoroughly,” he told Rolling Stone. Of the book’s critics, he said, “I think they wish I had created a portrait of someone who was larger than life, larger than he was, and that, somehow, this portrait would all come out different. But that’s a fantasy, not journalism.” Woodward being Woodward, he was given the benefit of the doubt. Belushi’s reputation never recovered.

Twenty years later, in 2004, Judy Belushi hired me, then an aspiring comedy writer, to help her with a new biography of John, this one titled Belushi: A Biography. As her coauthor, I handled most of the legwork, including all of the interviews and most of the research. What started as a fun project turned out to be a rather fascinating and unique experiment. Over the course of a year, page by page, source by source, I re-reported and rewrote one of Bob Woodward’s books. As far as I know, it’s the only time that’s ever been done.

Wired is an anomaly in the Woodward catalog, the only book he’s ever written about a subject other than Washington. As such, it’s rarely cited by his critics. But Wired’s outlier status is the very thing that makes it such a fascinating piece of Woodwardology. Because he was forced to work outside of his comfort zone, his strengths and his weaknesses can be seen in sharper relief. In Hollywood, his sources weren’t top secret and confidential. They were some of the most famous people in America. The methodology behind the book is right out there in the open, waiting for someone to do exactly what I did: take it apart and see how Woodward does what he does.

Colby found that the problem wasn’t that facts cited by Woodward were necessarily false, but that “a lot of what Woodward writes comes off as being not quite right—some of it to the point where it can feel quite wrong.” He had difficulty putting facts into context.

This is now meaningful in light of the way in which he totally got the story wrong when reporting on the budget battle, and his rather strange claim that the White House was threatening him. The problem was not as much getting individual facts wrong about the negotiations between Obama and Boehner on the budget but that Woodward seemed ignorant of all the other important facts about these negotiations needed to put what he saw into context. He didn’t get the facts wrong about what the White House said to him, but anyone seeing the exchange in context would disagree with his assessment that he was being threatened.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sherlock; Star Trek Into Darkness; Veronica Mars; Firefly; Batman; Pepper Potts; Gwen Stacy Meets Mary Jane Watson

Doctor Who returns March 30. Trailer above.

Here is an interview with Matt Smith on the Jonathan Ross Show. For those who are just interested in the Doctor Who Clip, here is a clip from The Bells of St. John, which appears to take place shortly after Clara first enters the TARDIS  (which has a new look):

Here is an interview (audio only) with Jenna-Louise Coleman and producer Marcus Wilson:

Executive Producer Caroline Skinner is leaving Doctor Who. Faith Penhale, head of Drama at BBC Wales, will be producing the 50th Anniversary episode. Steven Moffat has gone through three executive producers but rather than dwelling on rumors of conflict, let’s look back at the days when Julie Gardner spent four years working with Russel T. Davies. Above is The Ballad of Russell and Julie. This is a must-see video for Doctor Who fans who have not seen it yet:

They are starting filming on the third season of Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch has confirmed that he is willing to return for a fourth season:

“We’ve already agreed to two more series”. Those were the seven words Benedict Cumberbatch uttered today that set a sizeable section of the internet afire. Speaking at this afternoon’s South Bank Show Awards, the Sherlock and Star Trek: Into Darkness actor revealed, “All I know at the moment is that I’m doing these three and another three”.

Cumberbatch recently won a British Press Guild award as Best Actor. Interview with him above.

Alex Kingston is also interested in returning to Doctor Who as River Song:

I’m so attached to that character. I never expected her to grow and develop in the way she has. You never know whether she’s going to be hard-ass or good. As long as Steven Moffat has storylines that include her, I will always say yes.

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-Cumberbatch-Quinto

Damon Lindelof on Star Trek Into Darkness and the secrecy surrounding the movie:

“If the first movie was about meeting and introductions, this movie is about becoming a family,” Lindelof said. “The title of the movie is not just about the mission that the Enterprise is going on but what happens when you get to know each other a little better and the hurdles you must jump over in order to truly become family.”

“If anything, we’ve become more terrified,” he said. “We kind of got it right the first time, [we thought], ‘Let’s really not screw it up this time.’ You really have to honor the 40-plus years of canon and legacy that this amazing franchise had before we put pen to paper.”

Lindelof said they settled on the villain for the movie and decided very early on to say little about him — apart from the fact that Cumberbatch’s antagonist is named John Harrison.

“The audience needs to have the same experience that the crew is having,” Lindelof explained. “You’re Kirk, you’re Spock, you’re McCoy, so if they don’t know who the bad guy is going to be in the movie, then you shouldn’t know. It’s not just keeping the secret for secrecy’s sake. It’s not giving the audience information that the characters don’t have.”

Game of Thrones returns March 31. Trailer above.

As I posted earlier in the week, I am helping to finance a Veronica Mars movie. Along with over 50,000 other people I have pledged money for a Kickstarter campaign which made its goal the first day. Don’t let that stop you from pledging–the  more money that is pledged the better the movie might be.

The success of this Kickstarter campaign immediately led to speculation that this might be done to finance other genre movies, and Firefly was one of the first to come to mind. Buzzfeed spoke with Joss Whedon:

Buzzfeed talked to Whedon, a long-time Veronica Mars fan, and he admitted that he was thrilled to see the movie project funded, and funded in the way it’s been. “It feels like a real game-changer”, he admitted.

And then the obvious question. Is this something he’d consider to get more Firefly off the ground?

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr Horrible 2 off the ground because of that”.

He added that “I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan’s no longer [working on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then. But right now, it’s a complete non-Kickstarter for me”.

Whedon suggests that Kickstarter “doesn’t just open the floodgates”, although we’d imagine that a flood of projects will be testing the water very shortly. He clearly still sounds keen to make more Firefly, though, and we’ll keep you posted as we hear more…

Batman in the Movies.

pepper-iron-man-3-trailer

Pepper Potts is no damsel in distress in Iron Man 3. From Marvel Studies President Kevin Feige:

In this movie [Iron Man 3] we play with the convention of the damsel in distress. We are bored by the damsel in distress. But, sometimes we need our hero to be desperate enough in fighting for something other than just his own life. So, there is fun to be had with ‘Is Pepper in danger or is Pepper the savior?’ over the course of this movie.

In the comic books she does get a taste for the suit and becomes her own hero named Rescue, who doesn’t necessarily battle other people, but is on missions to help people and to save people. Will we do that down the line with Gwyneth Paltrow? Who knows. But her being in the suit is something we have been playing with since ‘Iron Man 2,’ where we did some designs and it didn’t end up fitting in that movie.

Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) meets Shailene Woodley (Mary Jane Watson). More Amazing Spider-Man 2 set photos available here.

Gwen Meets Mary Jane Spider-Man

Quote of the Day

“With the selection process going on for the new Pope, there’s a lot of papal trivial. For example, did you know that no Pope has ever in the history of the church been elected without carrying Ohio?” –David Letterman

Bonus Quote:

“Thousands and thousands of people at Vatican Square were looking at the chimney. And the white smoke means we have a white Pope.” –David Letterman