SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Season Finale; Sex Ed On The Magicians; Roswell; Constantine on Legends of Tomorrow; Black Panther

Star Trek: Discovery had the best first season for a Star Trek sequel/prequel series, but the season finale, Will You Take My Hand, was somewhat of a disappointment. Some aspects of the episode did work, but it was an overly simple and unrealistic ending for a season-long arc. While many individual episodes of other Star Trek series have relied on similarly simplistic endings, I had hoped for more with Discovery. On the other hand, Star Trek does have  a history of disappointing conclusions of arcs, such as with the finale of Deep Space Nine.  I wonder if the loss of Bryan Fuller resulted in setting up the season long story line, but if he left before the ending was totally fleshed out.

Last week they set up the ruse that Georgiou was the Prime Georgiou, despite it being unrealistic that the crew of the Discovery would be fooled. This was immediately abandoned this episode when Mirror Georgiou did not act like a Federation officer. It was also unnecessary for the plan initiated in the finale for her to have tried to fool anyone.

While weakly plotted, the scenes on  Qo’noS had multiple treats for fans, including a fourth role for Clint Howard going back to The Corbomite Maneuver. There were Orions, and we learned more about the Klingon penis in a season which previously showed Klingon breasts. (If everything, including the penis, is duplicated in Klingons, shouldn’t they have four breasts?) By the time they revealed that the package was really a bomb and the plan was to destroy or cause major destruction to  Qo’noS, I assume that most viewers had already caught on.

While a rather simplistic conclusion for the Klingon war, this provide the opportunity for Burhnam to raise the issue of sticking to Star Fleet principles, and give her reason to mutiny for a second time. The parallels to the start of the season were obvious. Besides returning to the theme from the start of the season, this season was unique in both starting and ending without the main ship’s captain being present.

Burnham came up with a solution preferable to mutiny, but I don’t see how she sold Star Fleet on her plan and returned before Georgiou had time to set off the bomb. Although it was established that L’Rell’s main goal was Klingon unification, there was hardly good reason to be so certain that L’Rell wouldn’t have tried to accomplish this by leading the Klingons to victory after taking over. It is also questionable that Klingons would have believed she could blow up the planet and very likely would have decided to attack her first and think about matters later (if at all).

Even if L’Rell could get the Klingons in the room to give her the power, I also found it unrealistic that Klingon ships on the verge of attacking earth would have turned around. It would have been more realistic that the Klingons would have abandoned the war if, instead of being on the verge of victory, they were engaged in a space version of trench warfare from World War I with no victory in sight for either side. Having the Klingons be so dominant at this stage of the war also makes it less believable that the Federation seemed so dominant again by the time of the original show. Perhaps the resurgence of the Federation will be dealt with over the next few years on Discovery.

With the war over, there was time for a family reunion and an awards ceremony. Many questions already remained open. How will they deal with the spore drive, which now seems fully functional, but which needs to be forgotten within the next ten years? What is the meaning of the spore which landed on Tilly? Georgiou, L’Rell, and Tyler are all around in this universe, providing possibilities for a return. The Prime Lorca and perhaps the Mirror Burnham could also turn out to be alive.

After leaving the awards ceremony, the next question raised was the identity of the new captain. While the captain would be picked up on Vulcan, this may or may not mean that the person will be a Vulcan.

Then came the big surprise. The Discovery encountered another ship. The call letters began NCC17…

By then most fans probably knew what was coming next. They certainly could not tease this and then show the NCC1776, The USS Independence Day, or some other starship. It was NCC 1701, the original USS Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, currently under the command of Captain Pike.

The episode then went into a new rendition of the original Star Trek end credits music, and we will have to wait until next season to see what happens with the Enterprise. This is the type of a cliff hanger I prefer for a series which will not return for months. Conclude the main story arc of the season, and then tease something from the upcoming season, as opposed to leaving the main arc unfinished.

For all but purists, the ship we saw did look like the Enterprise, regardless if there were slight changes. Matters will be more difficult if they show the interior, or the uniforms, considering how much Discovery has been updated. It would be an easy matter to recast Captain Pike, and most of the crew are unknown to us with one notable exception–Spock. While it would be amazing if Zachary Quinto were to play Spock, I doubt this is likely.

There are other difficulties. If Spock and Burnham interact, it would be a little more difficult to believe that Spock never mentioned his half-sister. There would be an even greater contradiction if Sarek and Spock see each other considering that, as established in Journey to Babel, the two were estranged for eighteen years. Of course it is possible that the two could avoid any contact with each other as they are estranged, or Spock could be elsewhere.

TVLine  discussed the episode with  Discovery executive producers Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts

TVLINE | Let’s start at the end, with the Enterprise reveal. What kind of storytelling avenues does that open up for you in Season 2?
AARON HARBERTS
 | I think one of the biggest things it’s going to allow us to do is start to develop how Discovery fits into canon. One of the big things that’s been polarizing for fans is, “We’ve never heard about Discovery! How does it fit? She’s related to Spock?” All those things. And what it’ll allow us to do is hit that straight-on. We see it as an exciting opportunity to say, “This is exactly how Discovery fits into the timeline. This is exactly how we can reconcile the choices we have made.” Because at this period in time, the Discovery and the Enterprise are the crown jewels in the fleet, so they should be face-to-face.

TVLINE | So does that mean Christopher Pike is a full-fledged character next season? Because we don’t know a lot about him, outside of “The Cage” and “The Menagerie.”
GRETCHEN J. BERG | Yeah, we can’t talk about specifics too much, but I think that because we are in canon, we look at things we know, and things we don’t know… and then there are the things we don’t know about the things we know! And there, often, you’ll find great opportunities for storytelling. But it is intriguing. It’s one of the fun things about playing within this box that is the timeline where we are.

HARBERTS | If there ever were to be a captain from canon that one could explore… Christopher Pike would certainly be that one.

TVLINE | So I guess you can’t tell us if we’ll see a ten-years-younger Spock next season, then?
BERG | [Laughs] No, we can’t!

HARBERTS | I can tell you: All you have to do is look at Michael Burnham and Sarek, and the look they exchange at the end of the show, and ask yourself what that could be about.

TVLINE | Maybe it’s safe to ask you about this: How great did it feel to lay down the old-school theme song over the closing credits?
HARBERTS | That was [executive producer] Akiva Goldsman’s idea. He is a huge Trek fan, and from the very beginning of his involvement in the show, he’s always been the guy who’s like, “And then the Discovery and the Enterprise will meet up!” And we’re like, “OK, Akiva, yes, yes…” [Laughs] It was his ultimate fanboy geekgasm… and it was a great idea. And then it was his idea to do the old theme at the end of the episode. I was at the scoring session, watching [composer] Jeff Russo lay that down. Tons of people were there, and you could have just heard a pin drop, and then there were smiles on everyone’s faces. It was very cool.

TVLINE | Oh, so that was totally re-recorded? That wasn’t just the original theme replayed?
HARBERTS
 | Oh yes, that was re-recorded. We had a vocalist come in. They had a bongo player in an isolation booth to play the bongo part. [Laughs] It was legit…

TVLINE | There’s always a chance she could run into Tyler and Georgiou again, right? It’s a big universe, but not that big.
HARBERTS | Oh yeah. One of our goals was: We wanted to create a universe, and play in that universe. And it’s only fun if you’ve got a cast of characters who can continue to come and go…

TVLINE | You did leave us hanging on who the next captain of the Discovery will be. What kind of personality type are you looking for to fill that spot?
BERG | Well, I don’t think we could bring back a Lorca [type] again, just because he was a captain perfect for wartime. I think the crew would be suspicious of that again. [Laughs] Discussing who’s next in that chair is a big topic in the writers’ room, and we certainly have landed somewhere… but I think we’d like you to stick around and watch and find out who it is, and why.

ET Online also interviewed them:

ET: Why did you want to introduce the USS Enterprise now on Star Trek: Discovery?

Gretchen J. Berg: From the beginning, it was something that we knew that folks who are fans of Star Trek know the Enterprise is out there and it was kind of the elephant in the room. We knew eventually that we would want to address that and deal with it. Even though it’s a giant, giant universe, it’s something that’s on everybody’s minds. So we were glad to be able to take the whole season to get to know our crew because the storytelling is going to be told from the point of view from Michael Burnham and Discovery. Let everybody get to know our characters and our show and what we were doing before we brought in the Enterprise. We knew it would be exciting and provocative, for sure.

Aaron Harberts: We also knew that we couldn’t hold off on this because there are so many questions about Burnham in regards to the notion of Sarek and Spock’s family, which is not to say that we’re introducing Spock at the moment. We don’t want to spoil anything. But it’s certainly time to get the audience understanding that we fully intend to respect the original series and respect where Discoveryfalls in that. To do that, we have to show the Enterprise and at least have these ships cross paths.

What is your intention with establishing the Enterprise in this way? What are you comfortable saying with regards to its place in season two?

Berg: Usually, we like to say sit back and enjoy the ride because it’s one of those things… You know, as a writer, you work on something and work on something, and you’re always like, but wait! We’re working on it and we’re going to show it to you and you’ll see. We’re certainly acknowledging that they exist in the same time. But always, always, always, the story on Discovery will be told from the point of view of Disco and our Disco crew. I think it’s fair to expect something, but we probably couldn’t go too much into detail about what it is.

Harberts: More than anything, it is about what new stories does this provide for our crew, for Michael Burnham, for Saru, for Tilly. Our main interest is Discovery. However, if the presence of the Enterprise can show us new things about our crew, the better.

It’s notable that it’s Captain Pike who sent the distress signal for the Enterprise. Is he a character we could meet in season two, along with Enterprise crew members?

Harberts: The thing to consider about Captain Pike is, from an audience and writer’s point of view, there is something very exciting about a key character from [Star Trek: The Original Series] who’s only been explored in two episodes of the original series — three if you consider how [the rejected pilot for the original series] “The Cage” works into the puzzle in TOS. When we think about the idea of Captain Pike, it opens up some large possibilities. We will never say never to exploring him a little bit more…

Are you suggesting that the nine-month period in Prime during which Michael and crew were stuck in Mirror Universe won’t be revisited?

Harberts: To be honest, Episode 14 [“The War Without, the War Within”] was all about what had happened. With the destruction that was wrought by the Klingons and the Federation during those nine months, we tried to paint the picture of that. I think what’s exciting about moving into season two is we’ve got a fresh new palette. We’ve put the war behind us and we’re excited to move on into some things that Trek fans have been longing for, which is more exploration, more diplomacy, more planets, more away missions. We’re focused on serving up some new stuff.

What does this mean for the future of Jason Isaacs, whose Mirror Lorca was killed but the whereabouts of Prime Lorca are still unclear, or Michelle Yeoh, whose Mirror Philippa is still roaming the galaxy?

Berg: If they’re out there, the possibilities are endless. Never say never. That’s the great thing about this universe: there are so many more different ways to go. I can’t confirm or deny anything, but…

Harberts: If we find Prime Lorca, I sort of want to find him making artisan sourdough bread in a bakery in San Francisco. That’s how that storyline could start and we’d just build from there. (Laughter.)

Because it seems the Mirror Universe isn’t a destination you’ll go back to anytime soon, what about Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber’s future? Wilson Cruz told us recently that their story isn’t over.

Berg: Wilson’s correct. We have just begun to tell the love story between Culber and Stamets, so I would just say hold tight.

Harberts: Stamets has got a lot to process that he hasn’t had time to process yet, in terms of not being in charge of the spore drive and having lost Culber. We’ve got to take Stamets on a journey as well and then we’ll see. But Culber is a character who is part of this Star Trek world, no doubt.

You’re already knee-deep on season two planning. What are you looking to achieve thematically and creatively?

Harberts: Chapter 1 of this novel was war, and right now, we’re thinking about Chapter 2. One of the themes we continue kicking around is the conflict between science and spirituality, and that’s something that we’re very interested, particularly after you finish a war. How do you rebuild yourself? What’s required for that? What we’re most excited to do is to continue thematic exploration and philosophical exploration and debate, and these characters are perfectly primed to carry storylines like that. That’s one thing that we’re thinking about. We have a few things up our sleeve, but we’d be lying if we knew everything, because that’s the fun of it is as well. You go into it, you see what’s working and you see what’s interesting, and you build from there.

Berg: The joy is in the journey for us as well in creating it.

This week’s episode of The Magicians was significant for introducing Poppy Kline, played by Felicia Day, but regular Summer Bishil (Margo) certainly held her own. Margo wound up in an undesired marriage to young Fomar, and turned to her version of sex ed to attempt to turn him off to the idea. While she pulled out a thick volume which contained female anatomy, her suggestion of the presence of teeth provided the title for the episode.

As usual, The Magicians did an excellent job of combining such amusement with advancing the plot. While Fumar was knocked out (later to be told he did great), Eliot and Margo found a massive field of the Fairy Queen’s mushrooms, which turned out to be fairy incubators to grow a fairy army. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Margo has taken hostages.

More also happened in this episode, including a look at depression with Felicia Day’s story. Inside The Magicians video below:

The CW Network rivals Syfy in the number of genre shows. They have announced that they will be expanding their programming to six nights a week, adding Sunday. This should increase the chance of their bubble shows returning and provides room for new shows. Next season this includes remakes of Charmed and Roswell.  Jeanine Mason (Grey’s Anatomy) has been cast a the lead for the Roswell reboot.

The highlight of the past week on CW was an appearance by Constantine on Legends of Tomorrow. It has been confirmed that Constantine will return later in March.

The biggest genre news of the week was the record smashing opening weekend of Black Panther.

How Facebook Might Have Actually Helped Trump Win–And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

As was highlighted in yesterday’s indictment, there is a lot of attention being paid to Russian actions on Facebook, giving a false impression that this was the deciding factor in the election. As I pointed out again yesterday, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding Russian actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

While the overall influence of Facebook on the election is unknown, if Facebook did influence the election there were factors far more important than the Russian activities. Both sides had many supporters who posted substantially far more on line for their candidate than anything coming from Russia. The Clinton campaign and its allies also utilized an army of paid trolls which were  more prevalent on social media than the Russians. The Trump campaign effectively used social media in a manner which was totally legal and had nothing to do with Russia–Facebook employees embedded in the campaign to instruct them in the most effective way to use social media.

The Guardian looked at how the Trump campaign used the Facebook embeds, based upon a story on CBS News:

The Trump presidential campaign spent most of its digital advertising budget on Facebook, testing more than 50,000 ad variations each day in an attempt to micro-target voters, Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview scheduled to air on Sunday night.

“Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won,” Parscale said…

Parscale said the Trump campaign used Facebook to reach clusters of rural voters, such as “15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for”.

“I started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,” he said. “I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”

Parscale said the campaign constantly tested minute variations in the design, color, background and phrasing of Facebook ads, in order to maximize their impact. Typically 50,000 to 60,000 variations were tested each day, he said, and sometimes as many as 100,000.

But Parscale’s comments highlight how actively Facebook has pursued election advertising as a business strategy, even as its platform has come under attack as a fertile ground for Russian-backed political propaganda, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation.

Among other services, Facebook’s elections advertising allows campaigns to take lists of registered voters drawn from public records and find those people on Facebook.

Parscale said he asked the Facebook “embeds” to teach staffers everything the Clinton campaign would be told about Facebook advertising “and then some”…

Parscale told CBS he was told the Clinton campaign did not use Facebook employee embeds. “I had heard that they did not accept any of [Facebook’s] offers,” he said.

While Clinton did not take advantage of this opportunity, there are other ways in which Facebook has been biased towards Clinton which might have offsetted this potential advantage for Trump.

Yesterday’s indictment by Robert Mueller was about violations of federal election laws by Russians. As Rod Rosenstein verified, it was not about altering the election result. It is less clear how much legal activities on Facebook contributed to the ultimate result.

Today’s Indictments Do Not Support Narratives Of Either Republican Or Democratic Partisans Regarding Russia

Once again the objective facts released with regards to the Russia investigation run counter to the narratives of both Republican and Democratic partisans. The details presented in today’s indictment issued by Robert Mueller again contradicts claims from some Republicans that there was absolutely no Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Of course that was an absurd stand from the start. Russian has meddled in our elections for years, as the United States has meddled in their elections, and both countries have meddled in elections in multiple other countries. On the other hand, the indictments provide nothing to back the Democratic conspiracy theories of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign which somehow stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

We have known for some time that Russians have been active on social media. With the long history of both sides meddling in each other’s affairs, and with the growth of social media, those who are shocked by this are astonishingly naive. Nor is it a surprise that such actions violated federal election laws. As the indictment states, “FECA prohibits foreign nationals from making any contributions, expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements for electioneering communications. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.” A far more interesting potential development would be, as I’ve speculated in the past, if there are grounds for a future indictment against Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kusnher for their attempts to obtain information from Russians at the Trump Tower meeting.

We know from the Trump Tower meeting that the Trump campaign had no qualms against colluding with Russia. However, while the Russians enticed them to attend, they had no information to actually offer. The indictment indicates other contacts between Russians and the Trump Campaign, however without the knowledge of the Trump Campaign. As the indictment states, “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

While it would hardly surprise me if there were to turn out to be some members of the Trump campaign who did knowingly communicate with Russians, at this time there remains no evidence of any collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia, even if members of Trump’s family did show a willingness to collude with Russians. Obtaining the actual facts, as opposed to promoting the claims of partisans on either side, remains the top priority.

As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed, “There is no allegation in the indictment on the outcome of the election.” After over a year of investigations, there remains no evidence that Russia had any effect on the election result, no matter how much Hillary Clinton and her supporters wish to claim this.

While the activities of the Russians very well might have violated federal election laws, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding their actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

The hysteria spread by many establishment  Democrats over Russian actions on social media, along with other false media reports regarding Russia, has had many adverse consequences including providing the Democratic establishment a bogus excuse for not correcting the actual mistakes which cost them the election after giving the nomination to a candidate so weak that she could not beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, increasing Cold War style tensions with a nuclear power, playing into the desires of neocons who have been exaggerating Russian influence on the 2016 election, and increasing censorship of Americans (not Russians) on Facebook. Using Russian activity on social media to censor Americans is a far greater threat to our democracy than any actions done by Russians.

The Explanation For The Number Of Mass Shootings In The United States

The New York Times looked at the question of why there are so many mass shootings in the United States compared to other countries:

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

There is far more in their full article but the primary factor comes down to the astronomical number of guns. If we agree that school shootings must be stopped, this leaves us with one conclusion. Something must be done about the number of guns. We can debate the specifics, and we can strive to find ways to allow those who use guns for legitimate reasons to still own guns, but any solution is going to require reducing the number of guns. Or do conservatives think that killing children is acceptable?

Conservatives will claim that restrictions on gun ownership violate the Second Amendment. I don’t take their selective adherence to Constitutional rights all that seriously when they are frequently the same people who are willing to see violations of First Amendment rights, with many outright opposing separation of church and state.

Department of Homeland Security Verifies That NBC’s Report Of Russian Hacking Was False And Irresponsible

Last week NBC and MSNBC continued to spread hysteria about Russia by both misrepresenting Congressional testimony regarding Russia and falsely labeling misinformation from several months ago as breaking news. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement verifying that the criticism written by many in the media, which I also discussed in this post. DHS called the report from NBC News incorrect and irresponsible reporting. The statement also stressed that, “we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers.” It was stated during the Congressional testimony that the action was primarily scanning of computer systems, which is done by both the United States and Russia.

The statement from DHS follows:

“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted.

“NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems.

“To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.”

While this does show the need for increased cybersecurity,  it does not justify the hysteria spread by NBC and repeated by many Democrats.

The misrepresentation of the facts made by NBC and MSNBC has often been cited by Democrats who have greatly exaggerated the threat, falsely seeing this as an unprecedented one-sided attack on our country, as opposed to the type of activity which has been commonplace by both the United States and Russia for many years. This has led to the totally unfounded belief by many Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. This gives the Democratic establishment excuses to avoid making necessary changes as their policies have lost step with voters, and much of the party base, leading to repeated electoral losses. Democrats need to accept that circumventing party rules to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Hillary Clinton was one of the worst blunders in political history, along with being an unethical act showing a total disregard for democratic principles.

This unfounded hysteria also feeds into the anti-Russian views of neoconservative interventionists who desire regime change in Russia, and has led to considerable McCarthyism from many Democrats who see legitimate criticism of the party from the left as originating from Russia. Rather than protecting democracy, anti-Russia hysteria is being used as an excuse to oppose dissent, leading to increased risk of censorship, including on social media.

This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Update:

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Can The Two Party System Come To An End?

The two party system is seriously broken when we were given a choice as terrible as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. More people voted for third  parties in 2017 than in other recent elections which lacked a big name candidate, but others see third party voting as futile. It is a sign that the two party system might be due to collapse when an establishment writer such as David Brooks writes a column about The End of the Two-Party System.

While I don’t entirely accept his rational for this, it is clear that both parties are divided. True conservatives don’t fit into a party led by Donald Trump. True liberals and progressives, including many supporters of Bernie Sanders, don’t fit into a party led by an authoritarian right warmonger like Hillary Clinton, or a party which consider her fit for its nomination. Brooks concluded his column writing:

Eventually, conservatives will realize: If we want to preserve conservatism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors. Liberals will realize: If we want to preserve liberalism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors.

Eventually, those who cherish the democratic way of life will realize they have to make a much more radical break than any they ever imagined. When this realization dawns the realignment begins. Even with all the structural barriers, we could end up with a European-style multiparty system.

The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.

We do need something new, regardless of whether it is for the reasons which Brooks discussed.

There are structural barriers as Brooks noted. Earlier this month The New Republic looked at Why America Is Stuck With Only Two Parties:

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time in American politics when it was relatively easy to jump-start a new political party and get it into the mainstream. That was how the Republican Party—the only third party in American history to become a major party—displaced the Whigs (along with several smaller parties) between 1854, when it was founded, and 1860, when it propelled Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.

It took three things to create a party back then: people, money, and ballots. Parties were responsible not only for recruiting and nominating candidates for office, but they also printed and distributed their own ballots (typically with the help of partisan newspaper publishers). Thus, there were very few barriers to entry: Candidates didn’t have to petition to appear on a ballot, and new parties were free to endorse candidates from the more major parties, so their nominees ran less risk of being labeled spoilers. Essentially, parties could contest for power just as soon as they had backers and supporters. This was what happened to the Liberty and Free Soil parties in the nineteenth century: Starting in the mid-1840s, as the two dominant parties—the Whigs and Democrats—hewed to the pro-slavery forces in their ranks, these new formations sprouted quickly and began gathering anti-slavery advocates.

In 1848, Free Soil nominated former President Martin van Buren after the Whigs supported slave owner Zachary Taylor for president, and got 10 percent of the national vote. Crucially, they were able to do this after the Whig convention that summer because there were no legal obstacles to getting him on the ballot. Six years later, in July 1854, the Republican Party held its first convention and swept the Michigan statehouse and executive branch that very same year. By 1856, its presidential candidate John Fremont won a third of the popular vote and 114 electoral votes.

That’s no longer possible: Today, third parties can’t mount their own presidential bids after they learn whom the two major parties have nominated—there simply isn’t enough time between the end of primary season and the general election to gain meaningful ballot access in enough states to win an Electoral College victory. Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who ran for President in 2016 as an anti-Trump alternative to Hillary Clinton, was only able to get on the ballot in 11 states because he entered the race so late. It would’ve been easier in the 1800s: McMullin wouldn’t have had to collect millions of petition signatures and hire expensive lawyers to get on the ballot.

The article went on to how the two major parties use ballot access to make it difficult for third parties to compete. The two major parties also conspire to prevent competition in other ways, including restricting access to the debates. While true that these are major obstacles, knowledge of how the major parties maintain their monopoly also presents strategies to work at to achieve change.

Ultimately bigger changes such as rank order voting would be helpful. This would enable voters to choose more than one candidate, with their vote transferring to their second choice if their first choice is eliminated. The idea is to allow people to vote for a third party without feeling like they are wasting their vote. Voters might vote for a Green Party candidate first, and then have their vote go to the Democrat next. This pattern might often be seen, but in  2016 I probably would have voted for Jill Stein and then Gary Johnson, only voting for candidates opposed to our pattern of perpetual warfare. It is also hoped that with ranked order voting more people would vote third party, leading to better third party candidates, with them ultimately being able to win.

There are no doubt major obstacles to third parties actually challenging the major parties. It is debatable as to whether this is a better or worse strategy than to try to reform the major parties, but the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. Despite the major obstacles, we are closer to changing the system than at many times in the past. Dissatisfaction with the major parties is at a new high, with many young voters having no affiliation with either. The internet changes the rules, both for fund raising and campaigning, reducing traditional needs for the old party structures. The internet has the potential to alter politics as it has altered a lot of commercial activity.

Even if a third party does not become a major party, third parties have historically had their value in influencing the major parties, which desire their votes. Seeing the loss of votes to a third party could keep the Democrats from continuing to move to the right. On the other hand, people practicing lesser-evilism voting it makes it easier for the major parties to continue on their current path–which led to a choice as terrible as Trump v. Clinton.

Hillary Clinton’s Plans To Reenter Politics In 2018 and 2020

The Democrats continue to have an excellent chance to win control of the House, despite their lead falling on some generic polls, according to Stuart Rothenberg, but The Washington Post indicates a problem which could harm the Democrats in 2018 and 2020, as in 2016: Hillary Clinton reentering politics.

The Washington Post writes:

In the first electoral season since the stunning loss that extinguished her years-long drive for the presidency, Clinton, 70, has begun a discreet and low-profile reentry into the political fray.

Her emerging 2018 strategy, according to more than a dozen friends and advisers familiar with her plans, is to leverage the star power she retains in some Democratic circles on behalf of select candidates while remaining sufficiently below the radar to avoid becoming a useful target for Republicans seeking to rile up their base.

Most likely, they said, Clinton will attempt to help Democratic candidates who have a history of supporting her and her family, and expending her political capital in a number of the 23 congressional districts she won in 2016 but are now held by a Republican. Lending a hand to Democrats organizing at a grass-roots level is a priority, they added.

She will be supporting the politicians who have supported the Clintons in the past–in other words, conservative Democrats, and the types of Democrats who lost in 2010, 2014, and 2016.

The most ominous line in the article is: “Clinton friends expect that she will be an influential figure in 2020 — as a potential kingmaker, or queen maker, in the Democratic presidential scramble.”

Since losing the 2016 election, Clinton has spent her time attacking the left, spreading pro-war hysteria, and undermining fundamental principles of Democracy, including freedom of speech and the acceptance of election results by the losing candidate.

While the Democrats should be able to do well in 2018 with the well-deserved unpopularity of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, long term their future depends upon whether or not they continue to be a Republican-lite Party, running on a platform of being just a little less crazy than the Republicans. In January The Intercept warned that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to prevent progressive candidates from running:

…the DCCC, its allied groups, or leaders within the Democratic Party are working hard against some of these new candidates for Congress, publicly backing their more established opponents, according to interviews with more than 50 candidates, party operatives, and members of Congress. Winning the support of Washington heavyweights, including the DCCC — implicit or explicit — is critical for endorsements back home and a boost to fundraising. In general, it can give a candidate a tremendous advantage over opponents in a Democratic primary.

In district after district, the national party is throwing its weight behind candidates who are out of step with the national mood. The DCCC — known as “the D-trip” in Washington — has officially named 18 candidates as part of its “Red to Blue” program. (A D-trip spokesperson cautioned that a red-to-blue designation is not an official endorsement, but functions that way in practice. Program designees get exclusive financial and strategy resources from the party.) In many of those districts, there is at least one progressive challenger the party is working to elbow aside, some more viable than others. Outside of those 18, the party is coalescing in less formal ways around a chosen candidate — such as in the case of Pennsylvania’s Hartman — even if the DCCC itself is not publicly endorsing.

It is also discouraging that many of the same people who handed Hillary Clinton the nomination in 2016, which led to the election of Donald Trump, continue to lead the DNC, with progressive members having been purged last fall. So far the DNC has not adopted the recommendations of the Unity Commission, which were rather tame and did not go far enough to reform the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, there are signs of hope. The Intercept reported earlier this month that, “AT LEAST SIX progressive insurgents managed to out-raise their establishment Democratic opponents in House races in the final quarter of 2017, a stunning development that threatens to upend the way the party goes about selecting candidates.” Yesterday Politco reported that, “Progressive insurgents are launching challenges to Democratic members of Congress in some of the country’s bluest districts, sparked by deep frustration with the party establishment and anti-Trump anger.”

The future of the Democratic Party must be on standing for principles, not seeing more of Hillary Clinton, who embodies what is most rotten in our politics.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The Magicians Get Timey Wimey; The X-Files On The Horrors Of War; Nudity On Altered Carbon; Star Wars

The War Without, the War Within is largely a table-setting episode of Star Trek: Discovery to transition from the Mirror Universe episodes to the season finale. While the season is supposedly about the Klingon War, we seemed to have missed a lot of key developments, with these covered by quick explanations of what happened over the past nine months

We learned that the war has gone badly with the Klingons dominating the war after Discovery failed to deliver the information regarding detection of cloaked Klingon ships to Starfleet. As we know that this ability is not present in future series, the question remains as to whether the information is never received from Discovery, or if the Klingons subsequently find away around this.

The ISS Discovery was apparently destroyed by the Klingons, so we will probably never see stories about Captain Killy in the Prime Universe. They suggested that Prime Lorca could not have survived, immediately making me suspicious that he will turn up in the future. Similarly have been led to assume that Mirror Burnham has died, but cannot be certain. I also suspect that the writers might have left this open even if they do not have plans for either character to show up at present.

Admiral Cornwell and Sarek took control of Discovery early in the episode. While I was not surprised to see Sarek being used for mild melds in the Mirror Universe, where ethics are loose, I have missed feelings about him doing involuntary mind melds in the Prime Universe. However, these are desperate times, and we later are led to believe that Sarek and Cornwell were going along with a plan which stretches usual Starfleet ethics.

When they learned what had gone on, Sarek did have an entirely logical explanation for nobody suspecting being suspicious about Locra’s origin: “That Lorca was an imposter from an alternative universe was not the most obvious conclusion.”

Making information on the Mirror Universe classified helps explain how Kirk and Spock were unaware of what was going on when they appeared in the Mirror Universe.

There was also advancement on the Ash Tyler storyline, and I continue to suspect that he will be significant in what happens with the Klingons. He apparently is no longer really Ash or Voq, but is more Ash with Voq’s memories. However, is it really safe to trust what  L’Rell said, considering that she created him to be a sleeper agent in the first place? If  L’Rell is still up to something, hopefully the “Fitbit” placed on him will be enough to contain him.

Tilly has a traditional Starfleet argument for trusting Tyler: “What we do now, the way that we treat him, is what he will become.” I’m just wary that this is the wrong attitude during a war which is not going well. Burnham is more wary, considering both her underlying distrust of the Klingons who killed her parents, along with having had Ash just recently try to strangle her. Saying “things got complicated” was a real understatement, sounding more like a Facebook status than a full description of the complexities of their relationship.

The one thing even more dangerous than trusting Ash Tyler would be to trust Mirror Georgiou. It appears that, having conquered the Klingons, she knows things about the Klingons which those in the Prime Universe do not know–and has a plan which the crew of Discovery might not go along with. It is disturbing that Starfleet is not able to come up with their own leaders who can win the war but, as Sarek argued, “Starfleet tactics have failed us.”

It did seem strange that  Burnham and Saru weren’t briefed about the plan to pretend that Mirror Georgiou was the Prime Georgiou. At very least they should have been told so that they did not give things away, but the scene was probably written this way to be more dramatic for the viewers. Considering that the transporter officer saw her come aboard, and everyone else just came from the Mirror Universe were everyone had a double, I wonder whether the crew of the Discovery will remain fooled about this for long.

The spore drive, which appeared to be out of commission for a while, is now a factor again with Stamets finding a way to grow spores quickly. Apparently they are to emerge in the caverns within Qo’noS as part of their final plan. Presumably, regardless of what their actual plan is, the outcome will lead to the Cold War situation with the Klingons we saw on the original show as opposed to serious damage long term damage to either side.

The Magicians had a real timey wimey episode last week, with Quenton and Elliot going back in time and living another life. While the time travel element was different, this reminds me to some degree of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Inner Light, in which Captain Picard had another entire life. Penny’s situation is a bit better, but for now he is still dead.  TV Guide interviewed executive producers John McNamara and Sera Gamble the episode:

Give it to me straight, does this mean Quentin has grandchildren running around Fillory?John McNamara: Hmmm…
Sera Gamble: It might mean that, yeah.
McNamara: He’s got to be very careful who he marries.

Let’s talk about that Quentin/Elliot hook up! Why did you guys decide to have those two share a night together amidst all the puzzling?
Gamble: It felt true about their relationship… What would these two people do if they were together every single day of their lives in one location, and frankly they’ve hooked up before. It just didn’t seem that weird to us that they might get drunk one night and one of them would make a pass at the other.
McNamara: The last time they hooked up, it was a Margo sandwich.
Gamble: Yeah, last time it was a threesome.
McNamara: But there was the reference in dialogue, I believe, in that episode or the next episode, where Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) says to Quentin because she walked in on the threesome, “The last time I saw you Elliot’s dick was in your mouth.” So that’s on record. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
Gamble: We say this a lot when we’re talking about the show, but the job of the writer is often just to sit around and talk about what they did when they were in their 20s, and occasionally getting drunk and sleeping with a friend is a fairly normal part of being in your 20s, especially in a situation when you are very intensely hanging out with them to the exclusive of almost everyone else for a long period of time. That’s the causes and conditions for a hook up.

How does the knowledge that he had a wife and a kid and a whole life affect Quentin moving forward?
Gamble:
 They do remember it, there are references later in the season. There’s a scene I’m thinking of, I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a really beautiful scene that Quentin has late in the season. It’s maybe my favorite scene of the whole season, where he sits down with someone he loves and he talks about what he has experienced on the quest. A huge part of what has changed him in his own mind is that he experienced a whole lifetime trying to solve the mosaic with Elliot, and he talks really specifically about how that changed him and how it changed his outlook on the quest and on his entire life.

How dead is Penny right now? Like he’s dead, but he’s still kind of around? How much hope can we have that he’ll be able to get back to the land of the living?
Gamble: He’s going to try!
McNamara: Whatever you think is going to happen, it’s not going to happen.
Gamble: I have to say, Penny this season though — John speaks the truth. Of any storyline we’ve ever done on this show, Penny this season is the one that has surprised me the most. Right around the time we decided we were going to burn his body, we really felt like we were walking on a tightrope without a net in a super exhilarating way. The pitches from the writers about where to take this character next were so exciting and unusual. And Arjun came to play, and in episodes to come I think you’ll see him doing his best work of the series, and that’s saying a lot because he’s always great.

The X-Files looked at Skinner’s past and the horrors of war. While not one of the top episodes of all time, it was a solid story. This  also provided an explanation for Skinner helping Mulder and Scully,  as they “taught me not to hide, but have the guts to shine a light into the darkest corners.” The finals scene also played into the general paranoia of the series.

Assignment X interviewed Mitch Pileggi about returning to the role:

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you surprised when X-FILES came back for a tenth season two years ago, or are you at this point, “Nothing about X-FILES surprises me”?

MITCH PILEGGI: Nothing surprises me. No, it was a pleasant surprise when it came back two years ago, and then to have it come back again this time, and even have more episodes, it was a treat.

AX: What was the point when you stopped being surprised at the longevity of X-FILES? I’m sure at the beginning, it was like, “This is still here?” Not because of quality, but just because it’s so hard for anything to endure the way X-FILES has.

PILEGGI: I came in late in the first season, so they had been going a little bit at that point. And when I came on, we didn’t really know what we had. David said he thought the show would last six episodes and be out. Here we are twenty-five years later. Not the case [laughs]. So with any show, it’s really difficult to anticipate or predict how it’s going to do or what it’s going to do. You think you’re on a show that’s going to last forever, they pull the plug on it after eight episodes. You don’t know. It’s so unpredictable that there’s no point in even trying to guess, but I think the second season, we were nominated and won the Golden Globe. If you put any weight into awards, that was fairly impressive and gave some indication that there was a pretty positive thing going on with this, with what we were doing…

AX: What is Skinner’s attitude at this point towards belief/non-belief/what he thinks is happening as far as the paranormal and/or extraterrestrial visitations?

PILEGGI: He’s definitely seen things, and he definitely has his own beliefs, and he’s seen things previously when he was in Vietnam. He had an out-of-body experience that he relates to Mulder, I think, in Season 2 or 3. So he’s had his past experiences, and that’s one of the things that draws him to Mulder and Scully. So there is definitely a belief system set up within him to accept it.

AX: But does Skinner believe less than Mulder does, or is he just more pragmatic about fighting the system?

PILEGGI: I think he’s definitely pragmatic in everything he does. But he does have faith in what Mulder and Scully are searching for, so that’s why he’s become their champion within the FBI.

AX: Who has a more secure secrecy system, the X-FILES production company, or the government?

PILEGGI: Well, I’ll tell you what – we’ve been able to keep secrets pretty good this time around, so THE X-FILES right now, I think we’ve probably got it down where leaks are not prevalent. Our government is what it is.

AX: Did you at any point do research for the character into the FBI, or Area 51, or …?

PILEGGI: I grew up around the military, I grew up around the government. My dad worked for them, and eventually I did, too, before I started acting. So I had a pretty good taste of the procedure and behavior.

Gamespot discussed the frequent use of nudity on the new Netflix series Altered Carbon with showrunner Laeta Kalogridis:

“Our worst instincts as human beings have to do with our carelessness with natural resources, and when the body itself becomes just one more of those resources, how will we treat it? Will we treat it with such indifference and with such depersonalization that it becomes more like a very fancy car than a repository of the self?” Kalogridis continued. “And that, I think, is one reason that the nudity itself is not gratuitous; it’s meant to reinforce to you, as a viewer, that the advent of this technology fundamentally and substantially changes people’s relationships with their idea of their own body.”

In other words, in a world in which bodies are interchangeable, what does nudity even matter? It’s not really “you” being seen naked–it’s just your sleeve. Depending how wealthy you are, it might not even be the one you were born in–or even a real human body, since synthetic sleeves are also a thing.

As Kalogridis pointed out, Altered Carbon‘s nudity is “equal opportunity”–the show features a comparable number of naked male bodies as female. She emphasized that the whole thing only works because so many of the actors were onboard to strip down.

Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be writing and producing a new series of Star Wars movies. Does this mean there will be nudity and dragons?  (Probably not.) From the announcement:

“David and Dan are some of the best storytellers working today,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “Their command of complex characters, depth of story and richness of mythology will break new ground and boldly push Star Wars in ways I find incredibly exciting.”

“In the summer of 1977 we traveled to a galaxy far, far away, and we’ve been dreaming of it ever since,” Benioff and Weiss said in a joint statement. “We are honored by the opportunity, a little terrified by the responsibility, and so excited to get started as soon as the final season of Game of Thrones is complete.”

No release dates have been set for the new films, and there have (thankfully) been no sightings of White Walkers around Lucasfilm.

Gay US Olympians vs Anti-Gay VP Mike Pence

One of the most exciting contests at the Olympics so far has been the feud between two gay Olympians and Vice President Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a “religious freedom law” which many fear will encourage anti-gay discrimination. The Hill reports on the latest in this Olympic event:

The first two openly gay male U.S. winter Olympians are doubling down on their feud with Vice President Pence over his record on LGBTQ rights.

Freeskier Gus Kenworthy posted a photo on Instagram of himself and figure skater Adam Rippon with a caption that calls out Pence, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Olympics, by name. Rippon was named to the U.S. Olympic team first, making history as the first openly gay man to represent the country in the Winter Olympics. Kenworthy was named to the team a few weeks later.

“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”

He also used the hashtag “TeamUSGay,” adding American flag and Pride flag emojis.

Kenworthy earlier in February called Pence a “strange choice” and a “bad fit” to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

“To have somebody leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBTQ community, and a Cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit,” Kenworthy said.

Rippon has been outspoken about his views on Pence and President Trump, saying in an interview earlier this year that he would decline an invitation to the White House because he doesn’t think he would be “welcome” as a gay athlete.

Reading The Daily Intelligence Brief Does Not Fit Into Donald Trump’s Style of Learning

Remember when George W. Bush ignored that daily intelligence report which warned that Osama bin Laden was “determined” to attack U.S. targets using airplanes? Donald Trump apparently doesn’t remember, or isn’t concerned about what he might be missing. The President’s Daily Brief just does not fit into Trump’s “style of learning,” which doesn’t include reading. The Washington Post reports:

For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President’s Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings.

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

Soon after Trump took office, analysts sought to tailor their intelligence sessions for a president with a famously short attention span, who is known for taking in much of his information from conservative Fox News Channel hosts. The oral briefings were augmented with photos, videos and graphics.

First they tried a picture book version, but  that turned out to be too much for Donald Trump. Instead briefers talk to Trump, after he finishes watching Fox & Friends and can take a break from Twitter:

The meetings were often dominated by whatever topic most interested the president that day. Trump would discuss the news of the day or a tweet he sent about North Korea or the border wall — or anything else on his mind, two people familiar with the briefings said.

On such days, there would only be a few minutes left — and the briefers would have barely broached the topics they came to discuss, one senior U.S. official said.

“He often goes off on tangents during the briefing and you’d have to rein him back in,” one official said.

Remember, this is the president who brags about his intelligence.