Trade Organizations Warn Of National Clown Shortage

clowns17n-1-web

The New York Daily News reports that trade organizations are warning of an impending national clown shortage, blaming it on a “lack of wannabe Bozos.”

I fail to see a problem here. There are plenty of wannabe Bozos out there. Just turn on the radio. Glenn Beck has even described himself as a rodeo clown. What about Limbaugh? Plus there’s pretty much the entire “news” department at Fox, not to mention almost the entire Republican Party.

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Bill Nye and David Attenborough Respond To Science-Deniers on Evolution And Climate Change

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Sir David Attenborough have both worked hard to use the media to provide education on science. This task is especially important considering the vast ignorance of basic scientific concepts found in recent polls, and due to political groups intentionally spreading denial of science. Both Bill Nye and David Attenborough are now taking on attacks on science coming from creationists and climate change deniers.

There is a valid argument that the debate format is the wrong way to confront those who are intentionally giving arguments which are counter to fact, and Bill Nye is far more knowledgeable at science than in political debating. He still deserves credit for seeing the importance of confronting science-denial. I previously looked at Bill Nye’s debate against  Ken Ham on evolution. Over the weekend he confronted a Republican member of Congress on climate change. The video is above and the transcript is here. Coverage from Swampland:

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” told Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee to stop questioning the facts behind climate change on Sunday morning, as the Congresswoman said the “engineer and actor” didn’t know enough about climate science to claim authority.

The two sparred over the the most appropriate response to extreme weather events and global warming on NBC’s Meet the Press, and disagreed on the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

Blackburn maintained that there is no consensus in the scientific community about global warming, pointing to two vocal dissenters, Richard Lindzen of MIT and Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, who claim that humans are not causing climate change.

“Neither [Bill Nye] nor I are a climate scientist. He is an engineer and actor, I am a member of Congress. And what we have to do is look at the information that we get from climate scientists,” said Blackburn. “There is not agreement around the fact of exactly what is causing this.”

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, according to NASA. Experts say there is still some uncertainty in absolutely linking isolated extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy or bad droughts to global warming, but the vast majority of scientists ascribe climate change and the increase in extreme weather to human activity.

Nye responded harshly to the Congresswoman.

“We have overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. That you cannot tie any one event to that is not the same as doubt about the whole thing,” said Nye. “There is no debate in the scientific community. I encourage the Congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

More at Climate Progress.

Attenborough

David Attenborough has typically stayed out of these debates in the past, but The Daily Beast reports that he is now speaking out:

In the U.S. Attenborough is perhaps best known for the Life on Earth series that was broadcast on PBS in the 1980s, on the other side of the Atlantic he is an institution, recently winning a BBC poll to find the greatest living British icon. His work has often been diluted for an American audience, with his masterful narrations for Planet Earth and Life re-recorded by Alec Baldwin and Oprah Winfrey before they were broadcast on the Discovery channel. There have also been accusations that the U.S. network sought to downplay climate change in the shows.In fact, Attenborough says he has finally grown sick of America’s attitude to climate change. “I think it’s very sad that people won’t accept evidence for what it says—it’s extraordinary that one of the wealthiest, materially advanced societies in the world can support irrational myths in that way,” he said. “That they should do it privately is up to them but since what they do effects that whole world it’s pretty serious that they should not accept that humanity has been responsible for these changes that are absolutely evident to everyone else.”

You could hardly describe the response as knee-jerk since Attenborough has made a career of resisting controversy, often describing himself as “a reporter” with no views of his own. He does also have sympathy for those who resist the prevailing science on climate change. “There are very good reasons why people should not wish to accept it, because it interferes with their business,” he said. “I would much prefer it wasn’t true—but it is true and unless we can do something about it we are going to be in trouble.”

He has less time for those who deny the existence of evolution, however. “Every society in the world has found it necessary to produce a story to account for the fact that humanity is on earth,” he said. “The Australian Aboriginals think that the first humans were regurgitated by a great rainbow serpent in the sky, the people in Thailand think the beginning of the world was a huge pool of milk and a snake was pulled by demons, and the milk coagulated and that formed human beings and there was a time, two and a half to three thousand years ago, when people on the east end of the Mediterranean thought woman was made from the rib of the first man.

“If somebody says to me I believe every word of the Bible is true, you can’t argue against that degree of irrationality…there is actually a way of looking at the natural world and seeing the evidence and it’s all there. And what’s more it’s the same evidence whether it’s in Australia or Northern Europe or wherever. It’s all the same—it all produces the same answer and you can all see the evidence—if you reject that then there’s nothing I can say.”

Attenborough and his fellow naturalists have been demonstrating the science behind evolution and the fossils that show the development of animal species for decades, and yet recent years have seen an uptick in the number of Americans who believe God put humans directly on earth. One suggested explanation, has been the surge of unchecked disinformation available online. “Never before in history has the entire world been able to speak to one another. We are at the beginning of an extraordinary evolution as a species—one species is able to communicate instantly with every member,” Attenborough said. “I’m not so cynical as to think that ignorance will always win.”

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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SciFi Weekend: Valentine’s Day and Girls SciFi Geeks Love (About Time; Karen Gillan; Scarlett Johansson; Arrow; Almost Human)

SciFi Weekend is a weekly feature at Liberal Values, and is now being cross posted at The Moderate Voice. To introduce the feature to new readers, every week  this post generally deals with Science Fiction along with other topics. Sometimes, like last week, it is about a single topic (Sherlock Season 3). More often a variety of topics are discussed, typically starting with science fiction and genre television, but often including other topics in pop culture. Some weeks there is a theme. The theme this week is Valentine’s Day and Girls SciFi Geeks Love. Beware that there are frequently spoilers, especially for television shows which have aired in the United States. I do frequently leave out some details or only refer to them obliquely to limit this, and try to warn about spoilers when discussing movies or shows which have not aired yet in the U.S.

About TIme

This year we had not one but two major movies combining science fiction and romantic comedy. As I had already watched and blogged about Her, this left About Time to watch with my wife after we returned from dinner last night. About Time uses time travel much more like Groundhog Day than Doctor Who, except unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, the protagonist of About Time can control which portions of his life he relives. The review does include spoilers.

On his twenty-first birthday Tim (Domhnall Gleeson)was told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family all have the ability to travel in time. There are limitations. You can only go back and revisit portions of your own life. As his father put it, you can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy. Tim asked about the butterfly effect and his father told him he hadn’t run into it. To add some drama later in the movie, it turns out he wasn’t entirely correct here.

There are other limitations, including one standing in the way of Tim’s number one interest, getting a girlfriend. You can’t make someone love you. He failed in his first attempt with a girl spending the summer with his sister. He did later manage to meet Mary (Rachel McAdams) but the meeting was erased from time when he went back in time to help out a crabby playwright who he was briefly living with. There was no butterfly effect which destroyed civilization as we know it, but it is possible to change one’s past. It should surprise nobody that he did manage to meet Mary again, but had to go back in time to dispense with the boyfriend she met because of not meeting Tim.

From there time travel continued to come in handy. No more awkward first times in bed when for Tim it became the second and then third time after going back in time. It wasn’t even necessary to keep his first awkward attempts at removing Mary’s bra or meeting her parents. Minor mistakes later in their life, such as choosing the wrong best man, were also easily fixed.

Some problems were not so easily fixed. Tim found a serious problem in going too far back in time to help reverse a poor decision made by his sister, Kit Kat. Fortunately for Tim, his mistake was easily reversed, but he had to find another way to help his sister. Tim learned that time travel cannot fix all problems. Sometimes something terrible in life must occur to get people to change. If he was truly trying to help Kit Kat, he might have also bought her a comb.

The relationship between Tim and his father became as important to the movie as the relationship between Tim and Mary, even leading the two to once again break the rules, but this time with no dire consequences. Over time, Tim preferred a simpler form of time travel, moving forward in time day to day and fully appreciating every day. “The truth is, now I don’t travel back at all, not even for the day. I just try to live everyday as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day. To enjoy it. As if it was the full final day. Of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” About Time is far from a hard science fiction look at time travel, but it was an enjoyable movie.

Karen Gillan’s romantic comedy, Not Another Happy Ending, is being released in the U.K. on DVD this week but there are no current plans for a U.S. release. Trailer above.  Iain De Caestecker of Agents of SHIELD (Fitz) is also in the movie. The actress who formerly played Amy Pond does not do any time traveling during the movie, but she does write and bake in the nude (more of that scene here). Update: Not Another Happy Ending will be shown at the Cleveland International Film Festival on March 19.

Scarlett Johansson is becoming the go to girl for sexy female leads when she is not in The Avengers movies. When they needed an actress to make it seem realistic for a voice alone to seduce the male lead, it was Scarlett Johansson’s voice used in Her. She is also the female lead in Under The Skin, playing an alien female who seduces men for sexual experimentation. Trailer above. It reminds me a bit of an early episode of Torchwood, back before the show got to be too big and they messed it up.

Doctor Who Both Hearts

If you missed buying a card for Valentine’s Day you might have to use Tim’s trick from About Time to go back and fix that. Or you can go back in your TARDIS, perhaps to use one of these cards.  For the last four years I have posted Doctor Who Valentine’s Day cards, with the latest set posted here.  Cards from 2013 can be seen here. Older ones also available from  2012 and 2011.

Heir to the Demon

I had not initially watched Arrow during its first season believing it would just be more CW fluff with attractive people in glitzy backdrops. At times it is, but as I later found out, it is far more. With a rich playboy crime fighter, and now the League of Assassins, in many ways it is one of the best live action adaptations of Batman ever made. Plus there are flashbacks to an island which might remind viewers of Lost. Still, it is on CW, so there is plenty of romance and love triangles in this superhero soap opera.

Before going on a brief hiatus for the Olympics, Arrow looked back at the triangle Oliver had with Sara and Laurel Lance, but things became even more complicated. In Heir to the Demon, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter managed to incapacitate airport security agents without any of the publicity and follow through which such an event would generate in our world. Her mission was to return Sara to the League of Assassins or to kill her, but it became clear that her mission would be more complicated when the two kissed upon first seeing each other. A discussion with the show’s producer over this turn of events can be read here:

With the introduction of Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) — Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter — hunting down Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) to bring her back to the League of Assassins, the stakes would have been high enough. But the show added another, more emotional level to Nyssa’s journey: She was Sara’s ex and wanted to win her heart again.

Of course, Nyssa ended up releasing Sara from her duty to the League when it became clear Sara would rather die than leave her family again. But watching Nyssa deal with the pain of that revelation was what made her one of the series’ best villains so far — a fact with which executive producer Andrew Kreisberg wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s been pointed out that sometimes our villains get short shrift and we don’t always do right by the villains,” Kreisberg tells Zap2it and a handful of other reporters. “We just don’t have enough time for them because our show is just so dense. We’ve gotten away with casting really cool people in the parts and asking our audience to just fill in the rest.”

Kreisberg and fellow showrunner Marc Guggenheim are glad that they were able to give Nyssa enough of a backstory to make her a sympathetic villain. “I actually feel bad for her. She really does seem like this broken-hearted person who got the shaft,” Kreisberg says. “She has the advantage of having an emotional and personal tie to one of our characters. She goes on a complete journey from start to end as opposed to someone who just wants to rob a bank.”

Guggenheim is quick to point out, however, that “Arrow” can’t have every villain be like that. “If every episode had a Nyssa, and didn’t have let’s say a Clock King, when the Nyssas of the world showed up it wouldn’t have any import,” Guggenheim says. “It would lack the weight that this kind of episode has. Because some episodes, yes, it’s just a guy bombing the city, but there’s other stuff in that episode that makes it worthwhile and worth watching. If everything becomes special, then nothing becomes special.”

Law was excited to portray Nyssa, but she wasn’t expecting her to have such a rich history with Sara. “I was surprised that I was going to be a lesbian,” Law says with a laugh. “When we did the chemistry read, I wasn’t quite understanding why I was [with Lotz].”

According to Kreisberg and Guggenheim, the decision to make Nyssa a lesbian came from the idea of what it could do for Sara. “We thought of this at the beginning of the season,” Kreisberg says. “If you watch [episode] 205 there’s a reference to ‘the beloved,’ and ‘You think that’s going to keep you safe.’ We talked about, ‘Well, does Ra’s al Ghul have a son?’ And then we were like, ‘Well, can it be Talia?’”

Since Talia al Ghul was portrayed recently in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the writers decided to go with the lesser-known story of Nyssa al Ghul.

“It just felt like something new and different,” Kreisberg says. “At the same time, we didn’t do it to be salacious, because it’s a pretty chaste relationship from what you see onscreen. It just touched on a couple interesting things, like the idea that Sara found one person who treated her with love and kindness. And then for Lance to be this hardened, tough cop and probably not the most progressive guy, even he was just like, ‘I’m glad you had someone who loved you and took care of you during those nightmare years.’”

Nyssa wasn’t the only one getting action with Sara in the episode though, as it ended with her and Oliver (Stephen Amell) hooking up in the Arrow lair.

“We were anxious to have in the same episode where we reveal that Sara had had this lesbian relationship, she was also sleeping with Oliver again,” Guggenheim says. “We wanted to be sensitive and realistic. We specifically avoid using the term ‘bisexual’ because we didn’t want to label her at all. Let her be her own person, and if the audience wants to label, fine. We didn’t want to do something just to shock

Before this was all resolved, Nyssa kidnapped Sara and Laurel’s mother, played by Alex Kingston. I had half expected the Doctor to save River Song. It now appears that Amy Pond is the Black Canary’s grandmother. There is yet another triangle, as Sara joined Team Arrow and Felicity can wonder once again about what was going on over on that island between Oliver and all those women.

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During most of the first season, Almost Human‘s best moments were its humor and the buddy cop relationship between the two male leads (one being an android). Unfortunately the last two episodes before its Olympic hiatus lacked the humor of previous episodes, but both episodes (Unbound and Perception) did more to flesh out the world the show takes place in. Perception returned to the events of the pilot and the relationship between Kennex and his probably-evil ex-girlfriend. Now that we now she is still tracking Kennex, there is the increased likelihood this will be used to find her and shed more light on what happened.

The episode also expanded upon the back story of Stahl, who turns out to be a genetically enhanced Chrome. Minka Kelley seemed almost too perfect on Friday Night Lights. She seems more plausible on Almost Human as being more than human, a character whose intelligence and beauty are the product of genetic enhancement.

Amelia Clarke of Game of Thrones was voted the Most Desirable Woman by Ask Men magazine. Alison Brie of Community and Mad Men came in second, with many other women in genre roles also on the  list.

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Two recent Canadian science fiction shows feature strong female leads. Syfy has announced that  Continuum, staring Rachel Nichols will return in the United States on April 4. Unfortunately this is after it returns on Showcase in Canada on March 16, making it harder to cover on line as I will definitely get a hold of each episode as soon as possible rather than waiting for it to air on Syfy.

Tatiana Maslany does an amazing job playing multiple roles on Orphan Black. Maria Doyle Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly that season two is like season one on crack:

That was just one of the tidbits Kennedy dropped when she stopped by Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) to chat about the show as well as her music career. Another tidbit? Looks like we can expect more Mrs. S in season 2. “You’re going to see more of her,” says Kennedy. “I had a great time in season 1 and there were some great scenes, but there was also a lot of hovering. They just really liked me so wrote me more this time, so that’s great.”

But on which side will Mrs. S. land in the war between Sarah and Rachel (both played by Tatiana Maslany)? Kennedy says her character’s ultimate objective is protecting Sarah’s daughter, Kira, whose whereabouts are currently unknown. “In the war between Rachel and Sarah and the whole idea about the clones trying to find out about themselves, she keeps going through that and beyond it and goes, ‘Where does Kira land in all this? What’s happening with her? How safe is she? Are they close to her? Can they get her?’”

Okay, but we still don’t quite know where Mrs. S stands and her connection to the clone conspiracy. Is she good, bad, or somewhere in between? “She is an incredibly pragmatic woman with a strong moral compass,” says Kennedy. “That’s how I feel about her. She has definitely done bad things in the past. She came through an era of protest and squatting, so she’s not afraid to be anarchic or against the law, but she always has a strong proper reason for doing what she does.”

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover 2014

Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge, and Chrissy Teigen appear on the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Three girls would normally mean six bikini pieces, but apparently that would have put them above budget, forcing the models to pose topless. The theme is The Past, The Present and The Future. Is this another time travel magazine?

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Wibbly Wobbly For You: Doctor Who Valentine’s Day Cards 2014

It is now evening on Valentine’s Day on the east coast and if you haven’t purchased a Valentine’s Day card yet your only chance might be to hop in your TARDIS and go back in time for your shopping. Or you can simply use one of these Doctor Who Valentine’s Day cards:

Doctor Who Both Hearts

Doctor Who Nerdist Card

Doctor Who Valentines 2

Doctor Who Valentines 3 Weeping Angels

 

Doctor-Who-Valentines-Day

Doctor Who Valentines4

Or if you prefer Sherlock:

Doctor Who Sherlock Card

If they are getting into nudity, why didn’t anyone put Irene Adler on a card? Oh, it looks like they did:

Irene Adler sherlock-valentine

There’s more Sherlock here and more Doctor Who at Geek Native.

You don’t even need a TARDIS to go back in time and see cards from the three previous years. Cards from 2013 can be seen here. Older ones also available from  2012 and 2011.

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SciFi Weekend: Sherlock Season 3 In Review

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Now that the series has completed in the United States, I can discuss season three of Sherlock without spoiling it for American viewers who did not download it when the series first aired. There are major spoilers for those who have not seen season three yet.

The season was far more meta and fannish compared to the first two seasons. The first episode, The Empty Hearse,  played with fan reaction to the cliffhanger by showing various possible solutions as to how Sherlock survived the fall. The episode also concentrated on how a world in which this Sherlock is real would react to Sherlock’s apparent death and rumors that he has survived.

Apparently Sherlock did fool Moriarty’s people who were watching to see if Sherlock went through with jumping. Unfortunately the explanation concentrated on fooling Watson, but the more contrived it was to fool Watson, the greater the chance that one of Moriarty’s men should have seen something to tip them off that Sherlock was faking his death.

The relationship between Sherlock and Watson, along with their relationships with women, was also a major theme of the season. Sherlock sure misjudged how Watson would react to seeing him alive. Although Mrs. Hudson, in one of many amusing scenes in the episode, was surprised to see that Watson’s fiancé was a woman, there was very good chemistry between John and Mary. This was partially due to Mary being played by Martin Freeman’s wife Amanda Abbington. We learned later in the season that Mary is not exactly what she seems, but in the end that actually makes her a better partner for a Watson who is spending time fighting crime with Sherlock (once we move beyond awkward events such as Mary shooting Sherlock later in the season).

sherlock-wedding

The Sign of Three was again more about relationships than a classic Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock faced one of the hardest tasks of his life–writing the best man’s toast at Watson’s wedding. Sherlock often looked awkward, and at times I felt like I was watching Sheldon Cooper. Besides the talk about John as a friend, Sherlock brought up past cases, some of which were unsolved. In the end this was all tied together as there was an attempted murder at the wedding, and a previous unsolved case provided the information to figure out how to stop it. Unfortunately the method of the attempted murder was not very realistic.

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His Last Vow was the best episode of the season, and many have called it the best of the series. It was the most like a conventional episode, but relationships between both Sherlock and Holmes with women played a key part. Sherlock’s relationship was established to obtain information, and we learned the truth about Mary’s past with the CIA. Lars Mikkelsen did as wonderful a job playing  Magnussen as his brother does playing Hannibal.

I found the ending with Magnussen to be somewhat disappointing. Sherlock could not get the evidence to convict Magnussen, or stop him using conventional means as the information was all in his head, so he had no solution but to shoot him. Besides not being an entirely satisfactory ending, I find it hard to believe that Magnussen would have allowed Sherlock into his home without checking for a gun. There were other situations solved too simply this season, such as Sherlock stopping a bomb by hitting the off switch (after playing with Watson).

Moriarty Miss Me

As punishment for murdering Magnussen, Sherlock was sent on a mission to East Europe which was predicted to result in his death in six months. This sentence was changed when Moriarty’s face showed up on screens all over England with the question, “Miss Me?”

Fans will be speculating over this cliff hanger just as they did over the cliff hanger over how Sherlock survived the fall. There are many possibilities, but we might not find out the answer for two years.

I always found it questionable that Moriarty would devise a plan to kill Sherlock in which he would not survive to enjoy seeing this, or anything else. Moffat has claimed in interviews that Moriarty is really dead, but we know Moffat lies, or that Mark Gattis might have different ideas. Maybe we are to take this on face value and Moriarty really did fake his death. Moriarty and Sherlock are often parallels of each other. In that way it might fit to have the question between one season be how Sherlock faked his death, and then move on to how Moriarty faked his death.

There is another variation on this which I like. At one point in The Reichenbach Fall, the Moriarty character claimed to really be an actor named Rich Brook and that Sherlock invented Moriarty. What if he was partially telling the truth. Maybe the person we saw kill himself really was an actor, perhaps really named Rich Brook except one working for Moriarty, and was coerced by the real Moriarty into killing himself. I can more easily see Moriarty coercing someone else into pretending to be Moriarty and killing himself than I can see the actual Moriarty committing suicide.

It is also possible that the suggestion that Moriarty is alive was a complete hoax. Perhaps another villain, or one of Moriarty’s men, arranged this and plan to commit future crimes in Moriarty’s name.

Sherlock might have arranged this as a backup plan in case his initial plans to get the evidence against Magnussen failed and he wound up getting arrested.  A more likely possibility is that Mycroft Holmes was responsible. It has been established that he has considerable technological abilities. It was also established earlier in the episode that he did not want to see his brother go to his death in Eastern Europe. This could have been his way of ensuring that Sherlock would be brought back home.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Casualty Of The Drug Wars

Russell Brand has an op-ed in The Guardian arguing that  “Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws.” Here is a portion:

Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts.

If drugs are illegal people who use drugs are criminals. We have set our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no solutions and greatly increases the problem.

This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does not work. We know that the people who devise drug laws are out of touch and have no idea how to reach a solution. Do they even have the inclination? The fact is their methods are so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse.

People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.

Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and drug-related deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this system doesn’t work – and yet we prop it up with ignorance and indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware that our drug laws aren’t working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? Extreme stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are most severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, politically irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of us but the poorest pay the biggest price.

More from Aaron Sorkin here.

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SciFi Weekend: Her; Harry Potter and Hermione; Sleepy Hollow; Hannibal; Orphan Black; Arrow; Doctor Who; The Americans; Lex Luthor; How I Met Your Mother/Dad;

Her

This has been a very good year for science fiction movies. Her is very likely the science fiction movie which is receiving the most mainstream critical acclaim ever. Last night it won the award for best original screenplay from the Writer’s Guild of America. It ties with another science fiction movie, Gravity, for Best Picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards (intentionally ignoring the debate as to whether Gravity is science fiction). Her was also a big winner at the National Board of Review Awards. Both Her and Gravity are nominated for Best Picture. There was controversy when various organizations declined to consider Scarlett Johansson for acting awards when she was not seen in the movie.

The important aspect of the movie is how people relate to the technology, along with their other limitations in dealing with other humans to the point where people pay others to write “personal” letters to their lovers. It still becomes impossible to ignore the technological aspects of the movie, primarily the question as to whether artificial intelligence could really be developed to the point seen in the movie. The co-creator of Siri looked at some of the abilities of Samantha which are well beyond what can currently be accomplished:

To get the “That’s incredible!” technology ball rolling, Samantha never made a mistake, never misunderstood nor misheard a word Theodore said. That’s tough to do in a loud, raucous world. Especially in loud places such as the circus scene, where you can barely hear the person next to you, let alone get the exact nuance of every word as you share the pandemonium through an earpiece.

And what about the scene where Samantha is literally spun around, viewing, understanding and commenting on the world she sees only through a jostling cameraphone lens bouncing around in Theodore’s pocket?

That would entail massively scaled real-time image recognition, spatial understanding, facial and mood recognition — as well as understanding the subtleties of thousands of social scenarios in order to predict that the couple sitting at the table were on a first date.

And such a conversationalist! Samantha not only discussed an amazing range of topics with Theodore, but was also incredibly adept at reflecting his mood in her own, varying the subtle tones and verbal inflections that indicate emotion. She even demonstrated an evocative handle on pop-culture terminology when he said in one scene, “No waaay.” And she replied, “Waaay.” Now that is some cool software.

Finally, I don’t even need to mention the complexities of building a program that’s adept at verbal phone sex, including all of the relevant and perfectly timed Meg Ryan-ish sound effects in perfect harmony with the partner on the other end of the line.

NPR’s Science Friday also discussed these topics recently. The podcast can be heard here.

Hermione

Reading the Harry Potter books, I thought that it was unusual that Ron and not Harry wound up with Hermione. Harry was the hero who defeated Voldemort. Typically he is the one who would wind up with the girl. J.K. Rowlings now admits she did get it wrong:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” she says. “That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

Rowling also said that Ron and Hermione would have needed “relationship counseling.”

John Noble Sleepy Hollow

John Noble had a notable role as a recurring character in Sleepy Hollow. His role (spoilers) became even more important in the season finale when he was revealed to not only be Jeremy Crane, the son of Ichabod and Karina, but also War, the second horseman of the apocalypse. After seeing how he played both Walter and Walternate on Fringe, he was clearly underused as a supporting character, and there is no doubt he can handle an entirely different type of role in the second season. He has been promoted to a series regular. Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Jennie Mills, will also be a series regular, which does spoil one of the many cliff hangers in the season finale which left Jenni unconscious on the road.

Hannibal-season-2-poster-570x760

NBC is trying to build the audience for the second season of Hannibal in a way similar to how the audience for Breaking Bad increased after many people (including myself) caught up with previous seasons by watching on Netflix. They have entered into an exclusive agreement with Amazon Prime to carry Hannibal and some other series. I hope they are successful, but I wonder if Netflix has as much impact as Amazon. There is also some casting news for the second season, including Mason Pitt joining the series late in the season as Mason Verger:

Pitt, best known for his work as Jimmy Darmody on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, will play Mason Verger, “an unstable wealthy patient of Dr. Hannibal Lecter who begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the deadly serial killer.”

Hannibal’s version of Mason Verger – which will likely be quite different from the character Gary Oldman played in the 2001 film – was compared to Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock in a casting description for the role. Knowing that, it will be interesting to see Pitt bring the same explosive energy he brought to Jimmy Darmody to Verger; a character who’s more cunning and therefor more dangerous.

Joining Pitt is Katharine Isabelle (Being Human), cast as Verger’s sister, Margot. She will first be introduced as a patient of Dr. Lector’s who is dealing with trauma related to her brother’s abuse. But again, this won’t be until later in the season.

Episode titles on Orphan Black came from Darwin’s Origin of Species during the first season. Second season titles will come from the work of Sir Francis Bacon. The title of the first episode of the season will be Nature Under Constraint and Vexed.

Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) became a popular character during the first season of Arrow and in response the role of her character was greatly expanded. We know very little about her beyond moving from the IT Department to become Oliver Queen’s executive assistant to cover for all the time they spend together. Each season also has had a scene establishing that she is Jewish. She is finally going to get a back story this season.

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The first pictures have been released of Peter Capaldi in the outfit he will wear as the Doctor. There have been some complains on line ranging from his hair being cut too short (following Matt Smith) to the top button being buttoned despite lack of a tie. Obviously none of these complaints have any real relevance to how successful Capaldi will be in the role. There is a minor spoiler about a surprise voice-only cameo upcoming on Doctor Who:

Clara emerges from the TARDIS on her mobile phone, looking intense and emotional. She’s not speaking to anyone, rather she seems to be just listening. In fact, whatever she is listening to hits her hard, and she slumps into the wall of a nearby store. The message, it turns out, is from the previous incarnation of the Doctor, played by Matt Smith. Hanging up the phone, the Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi exits the TARDIS, and starts an exchange with Clara. He asks if that was the Doctor on the phone. More on that in a minute.

Emotionally, he insists to Clara; he is the Doctor, he’s 2000 years old, and he’s standing right there, in front of her. Cautiously, Clara walks straight up to this strange, older man in front of her.

Inquisitively, she looks up straight into the Doctor’s eyes, inspecting them, looking for the man she knows. The Doctor looks down into his companions eyes curiously, like an owl bemused. Suddenly, Clara throws her arms around the Doctor. For his part, the Doctor awkwardly holds his arms out around her, fingers splayed and startled and uncomfortable.

Clara immediately then clicks back into her normal, bouncy self, asking the Doctor where they are. He replied Glasgow (although we were definitely in Cardiff, I double checked), and they continue to chat before the scene ends.

New promo for The Americans above. The show returns February 26.

Jesse Eisenberg will play Lex Luthor in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman movie. I don’t really see Eisenberg in the role, but we will see.

So far the former stars of Friends have not been very successful with network sitcoms. David Schwimmer is attempting a return to network television in a pilot named Irreversible.

Irreversible, which is partially improvised in the vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm, centers on Andy (Schwimmer) and Sarah, a somewhat eccentric, self-absorbed couple, and their trials and tribulations — most of which they bring upon themselves.

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How I Met Your Mother had a fantastic 200th episode last week, going back over the time frame of the series from the perspective of the mother, played by Cristin Milioti. Characters have been outlined for the planned spin-off, How I Met Your Dad:

Sally: In her 20s but still not very grown-up and a little bit aimless, Sally has been married for a year to Gavin and is realizing they’re not meant for each other.

Danny: Sally’s older brother and opposite personality, he’s a driven lawyer who’s less than pleased when Sally moves in after splitting with Gavin. Danny is married to …

Todd: One of Sally’s best friends from college, who’s significantly more welcoming to having Sally as a roommate. Danny and Todd fill the Lily-and-Marshall/committed couple portion of the group.

Juliet: Sally’s “party-girl” best friend and the Barney of the group. She runs a fashion blog and has been telling Sally for some time that Gavin isn’t the right guy for her.

Frank: A “hot nerd” who heads up IT for Juliet’s site and has an unrequited (for the moment) crush on Sally. If Sally is the female Ted, Frank would be the male Robin (albeit with what sounds like a rather different personality).

Narrator: Future Sally.

 Philip Seymour Hoffman was found of an apparent overdose. His genre appearances include the Hunger Games movies and Red Dragon, based upon one of the Hannibal Lecter books.

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Quote of the Day: Conan on The State of the Union Address

“At last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama renewed his call for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. Yeah, that was popular. Even more popular, though, was his roadblock to citizenship for Justin Bieber. That went over huge.” –Conan O’Brien

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Quote of the Day: Letterman Corrects Donald Trump On Global Warming

“Donald Trump says today’s cold weather proves there’s no global warming. Strictly speaking, global warming doesn’t mean every day it’s going to be raging hot or that every day is hotter than the year before. It’s the same way that ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ doesn’t mean you’re going to see actual celebrities.” –David Letterman

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SciFi Weekend: Sleepy Hollow & Other Cliffhangers; Doctor Who & Sherlock Win At National Television Awards; The Americans; Arrow; Wonder Woman; Revolution; Hannibal; SHIELD

SLEEPY-HOLLOW-FINALE

Sleepy Hollow ended its first season with several cliffhangers, placing virtually all the major characters in some sort of danger. If they had known how successful the show would be, perhaps they wouldn’t have had to resort to such gimmicks. Get the viewers to return the next season based upon the quality of the show rather than ending with cliffhangers for the sake of cliff hangers. With all the shows now on, people aren’t even likely to recall all the cliffhangers, especially with the longer wait following a show with only a thirteen episode run.

This isn’t to say I oppose all cliff hangers. Back when Dallas first ran the Who Shot JR? storyline, this was somewhat unique for network television, and the buzz around it was a major television event. Star Trek The Next Generation had a great cliffhanger in Best of Both Worlds with Riker ordering the Enterprise to fire on Borg Picard.  The buzz over that summer helped make the show. Most cliffhangers are not this good and do not provide comparable benefits.

An alternative to the cliffhanger which I prefer is for a show to tie up the major story lines at the end of a season and then foreshadow what is coming next. Once Upon A Time did an excellent job with this. The show has been mixed quality-wise, but the old Lost writers on the show manage to keep things interesting by changing things every season. The Peter Pan story from the fall season was drawn out too long, but if you take out the middle episodes where everyone seemed to just wander around Neverland, it did end well. After concluding the story, there was a great final scene taking place a year later which sets up the show when it returns. They got the benefit of favorable publicity and talk about what is happening next without making the viewers wait to see the current story tied up.

Sleepy Hollow didn’t need a bunch of cliffhangers in the finale to create discussion among the fans. Without putting everyone in immediate danger, there was a major revelation and change for the show via John Noble’s character. It was like having him change from Walter to Walternate on Fringe but remain the same person. I was happy to see Captain Irving’s wife find out what is going on so he will no longer need to make lame excuses for not being home, but now we have to see him get off on the charges he confessed to to protect his daughter when processed. On top of all this, we got a flashback to see Zombie George Washington!

Doctor Who did well at the National Television Awards. The show won as Best Drama, beating Broadchurch, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. Matt Smith won for Best Drama Performance, beating  Miranda Hart (Call The Midwife), Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) and Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey). He was not present to accept the award in person. Instead it was accepted by Steven Moffat and Jenna Coleman (video above). Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) won the award for Best TV Detective.

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The Americans returns February 26. Here’s some information released about the second season during a panel at the Television Critics Association press tour:

This season will turn the focus back on the family.
“We felt like [season 1] had been so focused on the marriage,” says EP Joe Weisberg, “and the natural place to go next was the family.” Particularly with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) marriage on more solid ground, they wanted to move on to exploring “the next point of fracture” — the family unit.

Paige’s curiosity continues
At the end of the first season, the Jennings’ teenage daughter started to show signs of increasing curiosity about her parents and their ongoings, and this season, questions will start being asked and “it’s not going to go great,” says EP Joel Fields. “Teenagers are hard,” adds Weisberg. “They’re all tough on mom and dad.”

Margo Martindale returns
The actress will be back for several episodes this season as KGB handler Claudia. The fate of her CBS comedy The Millers will not determine what comes next for that character, as The Americans will be done filming the second season in March — well before broadcast network renewals are typically announced. That said, if Martindale finds herself available full time and the show gets a third season, “It’s hard to argue with more Margo Martindale,” says Fields. “We love that character and we love her.”

Martha will get a backbone this season!
Martha’s faux-marriage with Philip will actually serve to strengthen the character, who is widely thought of as insecure, the producers said. “Who she was was extremely lonely and extremely vulnerable and she’s less lonely this season, so it’s allowing her to grow,” says Weisberg. “It’s a law of unintended consequences,” adds Fields.

There’s a racy scene in the premiere
Without giving away too much, a racy scene in the season premiere had critics buzzing. According to Weisberg, the purpose was to depict a show of love between Philip and Elizabeth that was “powerful, shocking, and funny.” You’ll see.

Stan is in a power struggle.
“He’s got such an interesting season coming up,” says Weisberg. “Nina is getting ahead of him. You see that at the end of the first season, and that’s such an interesting place for him to be in and so true and so real for what happens to people when you’re playing this back-and-forth game. People who are smart and good can have people get ahead of them because they are also smart and good at what they do too.” And while Stan is a man who is used to a certain amount of pressure, what it does to him will be “great” to watch, he says.

BONUS BURNING QUESTION: Is the show ever heading to Russia?
The producers said they have “half-joked” about having a season that takes place in Russia, later admitting that such a task would require heaps of funding. But, they said, “I think we’re going to eventually have some storylines there,” teases Weisberg. In fact, he added, there will, like season 1, be some material set in Russia. But filming in the country remains on their to-do. “It would basically be a budget question,” he said.

Tremors

Arrow star Stephen Amell says that episode 15, The Promise, is “grandest, most challenging and most difficult episode” of the series:

“Episode 15 that we have coming up – and this is breaking news – it’s an island-centric episode,” he revealed to Entertainment Weekly Radio. “We take our usual format of 75% of the time in Starling City and 25% of the time on [the island], and we flip it upside down.”

He continued: “[In this episode], there is a shot where we establish where we are and it’s the biggest shot that we’ve ever done on the show. There’s people getting blown up. There’s people getting thrown overboard.

“There are all of these incredible things happening, and then the camera zooms from way, way, way out and it comes in to end on a close-up of me. And all I had to do was evade a punch and bang a guy’s head into the wall. I was super nervous!”

Gal Gadot2

Gal Gadot has been signed to appear as Wonder Woman in three movies: the Superman vs. Batman movie, a Justice League movie, and a Wonder Woman standalone movie. Presumably this might be extended further if the character does well.

I don’t know if this is the official final storyline, but this synopsis  (spoiler) of the Fantastic Four reboot leaked out from casting calls:

“The Fantastic Four’ will tell the story of two very young friends, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. After an event transforms the boys, they find themselves empowered with bizarre new abilities. Reed becomes a scientific genius who can stretch, twist and re-shape his body to inhuman proportions. Ben becomes a monstrous, craggy humanoid with orange, rock-like skin and super strength. However, the two end up being owned by the government and used as weapons. But after they mature, two others with powers come into the picture – Sue Storm “The Invisible Girl” and Johnny Storm “The Human Torch.”

I’m glad I stuck with Revolution. The show still has its flaws, but when it gets away from the daddy issues of major characters, the current story lines are getting better. (Along these lines, when will they reveal that Miles is Charlie’s father? This is so obvious, even if it isn’t intended by the writers.) One good thing about the show from the start has been that the story does advance and they are not constantly repeating similar stories. Now there are the Patriots who are getting into eugenics. I thought the story line with Aaron and the nanobots was pretty dumb last fall, but suddenly that is becoming interesting. Of course any storyline with Giancarlo Esposito has hope due to the quality of his acting. Currently Tom and Julia Neville/Doyle are in Washington, D.C. but unfortunately for Tom his plot has been exposed. I’m sure he will recover from his current setback, but should they ever decide to end his time on the show, I hope he goes out in a scene where half his face is blown off, as happened with his character Gus on Breaking Bad.

A longer trailer for Season 2 of Hannibal, which starts February 28, has been released–video above.

Two characters will be killed in the first episode when Under the Dome returns. I’m having a tough time getting down to only two characters who I would like to see get killed. Maybe they can kill two characters every week. That might help the show.

HBO has renewed The Newsroom for a third and final season. I’m glad that Aaron Sorkin’s show will be returning, but wish there would be more than one season to go.

CHLOE BENNET

Maybe I’m getting softer, but I also think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has improved. I am glad to hear that there will be more than has been revealed so far on the mysteries surrounding two of the characters according to an interview with Chloe Bennett:

Though “Seeds” and its “SHIELD Hogwarts” storyline was one of the series’ more playful episodes, Bennet says that the end of episode 13 “TRACKS” is “f***ing crazy” and will leave viewers “very worried.” Henstridge backs her up, saying that the rest of this season gets very serious and very intense.

“The thing about the next few episodes that we’re about to film and that are about to be shown, it starts getting very serious and the tone goes a lot darker,” Henstridge says. “There’s less kind of comedic things for us to do. The stakes just go through the roof. With Coulson having been kidnapped, things start to get very scary. So I think it’s more focused on the mission and there’s a lot of mystery around Skye, and that starts to be explored. So that’s kind of the main mystery.”

In terms of the mystery surrounding Coulson’s death, Bennet also acknowledges that there is a lot left fore viewers to find out — and that she thinks we’ll find out those answers before the end of Season 1.

“We found out what Tahiti was — or lack thereof — but we didn’t know why. Why is it a huge secret?” Bennet asks. “There’s a couple big question marks. There’s: What am I? Where am I from? Why the f*** are they not telling Coulson why he died? And then there’s: Who’s the Clairvoyant? Who’s the head of Centipede? What is happening? Basically starting next episode, it’s bam bam bam bam bam from here on, so it will be a lot of answers and a lot of drama.”

Jamie Alexander will be appearing on an upcoming episode reprising her role as Lady Sif from the Thor movies. There are also upcoming guest appearances from Stan Lee and Bill Paxton.

Parks and Recreation has been renewed for a seventh season, and it is looking hopeful that Community will return for a sixth season.

Colin Jost has been named to replace Seth Meyers as the anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.

Mr. Selfridge returned last week for a second season on ITV. It picks up four years after season one, but the events of the end of the season still have ramifications.

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