SciFi Weekend: Ascension; Person of Interest; Daredevil; Orphan Black; Hannibal; Fargo; Doctor Who Easter Eggs On Gracepoint; The Newsroom; The Fall; The Interview

Tricia-Helfer-in-Ascension

Ascension was billed as  Syfy’s big attempt to return to outer space based, hard science fiction, including the return of Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica. It didn’t exactly do that, but despite some flaws it was mostly a success. Major spoilers here if you plan to watch this at a later date.

The show was billed as sort of Mad Men in space with the advertised premise being of a multi-generational ship sent from earth in the 1960’s. It would have been a lifeboat for the human race during the height of the cold war. The show took place in current time, half way through the ship’s one hundred year journey, with the mission complicated by their first murder. This allowed them to show a culture which did not move beyond the 1960’s, complete with a beach and stewardesses to provide sexual favors for the upper class. It was never clear why such a class difference developed in such a short period of time, but if did make it feel more like the true 1960’s.

During the first episode there were scenes on earth which did suggest that things were not as they seemed, but the big reveal wasn’t until the end of the first two hours. They never left earth with those on board being part of a huge experiment, unaware that they were still on earth and under constant observation. Nobody on board thought it was odd that they never had any jobs to perform outside of the ship.

If this reveal wasn’t until the end of the series it would feel like a cheap cop out, but coming relatively early it did work to provide additional drama for the remaining four hours. I did actually like this development because it was far more plausible than the billed premise. If a science fiction show is set in our future, I don’t mind if they invent technology which is well beyond us such as artificial gravity. However, as the show claimed to have developed this space ship fifty years in our past, I didn’t find it credible for them to have technology which we do not currently have. I could accept them fooling people on board to accept this when they were actually under earth’s gravity.

This twist also allowed for the earth-bound drama to be as significant as the drama on board Ascension, including the well-developed schemes to not only keep this secret but to control those who suspected the plot, or who knew and wanted to take action. While I did like the twist leading to Samantha’s betrayal, I also would have liked to see them succeed in going full Snowden.

I do have mixed feelings about the ending’s almost paranormal nature. However once they did establish that this was an elaborate trick, they did need a big reason for doing it. An experiment as to how people would react to being on a multi-generational space mission would not justify this, but the eugenics experiments which resulted in the creation of someone with Christa’s powers would provide a more plausible reason. Once we saw Christa teleport Gault to an alien world it all made sense. The ability to transport across the galaxy immediately would provide a far better lifeboat for humanity than to send people out on a one hundred year perilous mission in space, in which those who start out would never see the end of the trip. Unfortunately this all ended much too abruptly, and Ascension works better as the first six hours of a series than a self-contained mini-series. I bet that the plan was never to end the story here and those who believed this was a six-hour miniseries were being fooled, just like the crew of Ascension.

The Cold War

The last episode of Person of Interest was far heavier into the show’s mythology. Zap2it discussed Person of Interest, and the trilogy which began before the midseason hiatus, with Amy Acker. Here are some questions from the beginning and end–check out the full post for the rest of the questions:

Zap2it: I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I have been waiting for Samaritan and the Machine to face off all season.
Amy Acker: It was funny because when we got that script everyone was kind of like, “Wait, this is happening now?” It did feel like that’s what this season was about, that Samaritan and the Machine are going to meet. I think that’s what the writers and Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman] really continuously do with this show is they bring up these things that would be a great season finale and they put them in the middle of the year. It really makes the whole second half of the season go in a different direction. I thought it was kind of cool that they did that when they did.

That scene was so great, and Oakes Fegley, who played the little boy Gabriel that Samaritan speaks through, was amazing.
Isn’t he so good? I have a 9-year-old, almost 10, that’s like the exact same age as him. I just kept looking at him going, “My son would never memorize some of those lines and then be able to deliver it.” [ laughs] He was very impressive. He was so smart and great, and he was excited about doing the scene and had ideas. The director [Michael Offer] was great with him too. He’s just really a special kid, and he was fantastic — and super creepy — as Samaritan.

There’s a little bit of a break until “Person of Interest” returns, so what can you offer as a tease for the next part in this three-part arc?
This is the second part of this trilogy of episodes which we’ve seen the beginning of. I would say this is the most dangerous of the three episodes. It’s a really unique episode. There’s not been a “Person of Interest” like this. When we all got the episode we were like “this is really cool,” and it was a really, really hard shoot. But as they’ve been putting it together, people have been saying this is their favorite episode that we’ve had. I’m excited to see it all together because it was kind of hard as we were shooting it to imagine how it was going to turn out.

The promo for the next episode makes it look like a lot of characters are in life-or-death situations. The last time “Person of Interest” had a big three-parter Carter died, so can we expect a similar game-changer this year?
Well everyone’s definitely in danger in this episode. With the beginning of the new year and the second half of the season, I think it’s going to really affect everything that happens from this point forward.

“Person of Interest” Season 4 returns on Jan. 6 with “If-Then-Else” on CBS. The synopsis reads: “Samaritan launches a cyber-attack on the stock exchange, leaving the team with no choice but to embark on a possible suicide mission in a desperate attempt to stop a global economic catastrophe.”

DAREDEVIL-NETFLIX

Marvel told Entertainment Weekly that the upcoming Daredevil series will be more about crime fighting than superheroes:

Forget Ben Affleck. Netflix’s Daredevil is ”the exact opposite” of Affleck’s much-maligned 2003 bomb, promises showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Expect the classic origin story to remain unchanged: Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a lawyer by day who hunts criminals by night (he apparently doesn’t get much sleep). But this new iteration of Daredevil is more influenced by 1970s mean-street films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver than traditional superhero titles. ”There aren’t going to be people flying through the sky; there are no magic hammers,” says Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb. ”We’ve always approached this as a crime drama first, superhero show second.” There’s also more grown-up content here. ”It’s a little grittier and edgier than Marvel has gone before,” says DeKnight, ”but we’re not looking to push it to extreme violence or gratuitous nudity.” The ‘devil will eventually get his iconic red costume, but first he’ll wear black duds inspired by Frank Miller’s comic Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

The above trailer for season three of Orphan Black, which returns on April 18, indicates that there will be war. I wonder to what degree it might be between the male and female clones or, probably more likely, between some clones and the groups which try to control them.

 TVOverMind has a round table discussion on season three of Arrow.

Michael Pitt is leaving Hannibal and Joe Anderson will replace him in the role of Mason Verger.

Fargo Season 2

Entertainment Weekly has more information on season two of Fargo:

Fargo is going back in time to 1979 for season two, and EW has a first-look at a page from the season premiere script.

Expect another snow-swept rural crime drama loosely inspired by the Coen brothers’ film, only this time the action is set in Luverne, Minnesota, where humble married couple Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) find themselves caught in an escalating war between a local crime gang and a major Mob syndicate. (A character in season one cryptically described the 1979 case as “savagery, pure and simple,” with a massive pileup of bodies.)

“The scope of the story- telling this season is a lot bigger, it has more of an epic feel to it,” says showrunner Noah Hawley, who adds that the earlier time period and even more rural setting gives the show an almost Western-like quality. “It’s not the ’70s in a Boogie Nights kind of way,” he assures.

Gracepoint Easter Eggs

Gracepoint took advantage of staring David Tennant by including a few Doctor Who Easter eggs. Look at who the messages were from which were left on David Tenant’s desk–D. Noble, Martha Jones, and R. Tyler.

Keifer Sutherland told The Telegraph that he doesn’t see going back to do another season of 24. Obviously this is not the equivalent of a Sherman statement.

The Newsroom ended last week with a mixed series finale. The episode largely contained flashbacks inspired by Charlie’s funeral but the plot did also advance in scenes between flashbacks. Unfortunately much of the plot advancement from this short season came from random events. Previously the storyline with Will in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of a source ended too easily when the source committed suicide. The finale too easily resolved the conflict from the changes made by then owner when scandals, which came out of nowhere, led to MacKenzie being named the new president of ACN. Despite these faults, Sorkin left me wanting to see another season with MacKenzie as ACN president, and even with Jim and Maggie trying to make a long distance relationship work.

The Fall completed its second season with a mixed ending which, like Ascension, ended too abruptly. It did not work completely because of relying on minor characters who have not been seen in recent episodes.  The show would probably work better for those binging on both seasons at once, as opposed to watching the second season over a year later when some key events have been forgotten by most viewers. There is hope of them redeeming themselves as there is talk of a third season. It is not known if Paul Specter survived and whether Jamie Dornan will be returning, but Gillian Anderson has expressed interest.

The top show business story of the week, greatly transcending show business, was North Korea’s hacking of Sony and intimidation resulting in Sony deciding against the release of The Interview. On the one hand, the problems faced by Sony in releasing the movie under the threat of terrorist attacks are obvious, but we hate to such such intimidation succeed. Today on CNN’s  State of the Union, President Obama called this an act of cybervandalism (video above):

President Barack Obama says he doesn’t consider North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures “an act of war.”

“It was an act of cybervandalism,” Obama said in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that aired Sunday “State of the Union.”

But he stuck by his criticism of Sony’s decision to cancel its plans to release the movie “The Interview,” which includes a cartoonish depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened attacks against theaters that showed it.

Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made “a mistake,” and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony’s hand.

Obama shot back, saying: “I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”

The President told Crowley that his problem wasn’t with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company’s decision set.

Ideally the movie will be released in some way to ensure that North Korea is not successful in preventing the release of a movie they dislike. Many solutions have been discussed. There are now reports that Sony might release it for free on Crackle. Such a free release, along with all the publicity this has received, would probably lead to The Interview being seen by far more people than it would with a conventional theatrical release.

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24 And Torture

24 torture

Matt Bai has discussed the “24 Effect” on how terrorism is viewed:

In a sense, “24” became a kind of virtual universe in which all of us could role-play — even if we happened to know more about the roles than the actors did. I recall a conversation with Bill Clinton in 2007 during which he brought up the show and spent the better part of a half hour dissecting the strengths and flaws in its portrayal of real-time decisions.

There was something comforting, too, about the portrayal of intelligence agencies in “24.” Even with the insipid station chiefs who cycled in and out of the show, CTU itself remained amazingly high-functioning and high-tech. State-of-the-art computers gleamed in brilliant new offices of steel and glass. Satellites saw everything, everywhere, and beamed it all flawlessly to Jack’s phone during the commercial break.

That false portrayal of our counterterrorism agencies was demolished by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, with its accounts of missed clues and outdated technology. And what we now also know, thanks to the new Senate report, is that it wasn’t the bureaucrats back in Washington who were balking at torture while the real Jack Bauers jettisoned the rules, but often the other way around entirely.

In truth, a lot of the operatives were apparently sickened by immoral tactics they knew weren’t working, but their bosses insisted on believing that the world was like TV, and the bad guys would break just as they did for Jack, if only our agents would do what they had to do. If the Senate’s investigators can be believed, those bosses were wrong — both morally and tactically.

Another view  from Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian:

This week the writer Matt Bai made the intriguing argument that the success of 24 might have shaped America’s whatever-it-takes approach to terrorism, at the very least allowing policymakers to believe that a US public that was cheering on Jack Bauer would have little objection to US agents engaging in similar behaviour in real life. It’s a thought I had – and worried about – at the time. But it misses something crucial.

It’s true that 24 struck a chord in that post-9/11 period. It channelled our collective id, ourdeepest, darkest urges. Caught up in the story, we wanted Bauer to, say, sever the head of the villain with a hacksaw. But that is not necessarily what we wanted from our governments. The state cannot be the sum of our collective impulses and instincts, no matter how base. It has to be better than that. It has to listen to cooler demands: the rule of law, basic rights and common human decency. Reality may outstrip fiction, but it has to behave better too. The alternative is the horror laid bare this week — and whose legacy we live with still.

I had also made a recent comparison to 24, and another source of fantasy as opposed to the reality of torture:

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Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

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Senate Intelligence Committee Report Shows That CIA Lied About Torture & Torture Did Not Work

The Senate Intelligence Committee released their report today, providing documentation that the CIA was both brutal and dishonest about their tactics, and that torture did not work. The New York Times listed these seven key points:

  • The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
  • The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  • The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  • Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  • The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  • At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
  • The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Washington Post indexed the report by twenty key findings. See the articles in The Washington Post and New York Times for more specifics on each point.

1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States’ standing in the world”

The Daily Beast lists The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

Right-leaning Politico reports: Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture–The Senate report confirms it doesn’t work. As those of us on the inside knew.

Needless to say, there is commentary throughout the blogosophere. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

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Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.

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Navy SEAL Describes How Osama bin Laden Died As A Coward

Robert O’Neill, reportedly the Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, was interviewed by CNN and had some comments on how bin Laden died. Gawker summarizes:

In a previously unreleased audio interview aired last night on CNN, O’Neill told freelance journalist Alex Quade that he had used details of bin Laden’s death to bring closure to the families of 9/11 victims, saying:

“[O]ne thing I tell them is ‘All right, Osama bin Laden died like a pussy. That’s all I’m telling you. Just so you know. He died afraid. And he knew that we were there to kill him.'”

“You can quote me on this bullshit,” said O’Neill.

Bin Laden’s alleged killer also told Quade that SEAL Team Six was sent after the Al Qaeda leader “because they wanted him dead” and that “it doesn’t matter anymore if I am ‘The Shooter.'”

“I don’t give a fuck,” said O’Neill. “We got him. We brought him out and we lived.”

Mediaite also describes how he “used details of the terrorist mastermind’s death to provide comfort to 9/11 families.”

He also will be interviewed on Fox. Does that mean that Fox viewers actually believe that bin Laden was killed under Obama? There really are conservatives who deny this, seeing yet another conspiracy theory in the reports of his death. After all, as MisterConservative said, we never saw the body, and Benghazi!

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Beware Of Those Politicians Who Spread Fear–We Have No Reason To Fear Ebola As Long As We Respond Sensibly

A mood of fear is engulfing the country which might very well affect the midterm elections. Hopefully people will react rationally and reject the Republicans who promote unwarranted fears, play politics, and advocate for counterproductive responses such as travel bans. Unfortunately but this is not the probable response.

As I discussed last week, even citing a report on Fox, we have no need to fear Ebola as long as proper precautions are taken.

There is no need to panic, or initiate measures which would be counterproductive such as a travel ban at this time. There is no meaningful problem with Ebola in this country and the biology of the virus makes it unlikely we will have a problem in the future. The nature of Ebola makes it a serious problem in countries without a Public Health infrastructure, but not in countries like the United States.

To date we have had exactly one patient with Ebola come into the country beyond medical personnel transported back here. Despite some serious mistakes being made, he did not infect a single person in the general population. The spread was limited to two nurses who cared for him at the most infectious stage, but before this stage the viral load is very low and Ebola is not likely to spread. This is also why, despite people who did come into contact with him having traveled, not a single other person has contracted Ebola.

Ebola is a serious problem in countries without sufficient infrastructure to deal with it, and if we are ever to be at serious risk it would be due to more widespread infection outside of the United States first. Our major focus must be on eradicating Ebola in West Africa, and anything which hinders this will make this more difficult and be counterproductive.

We also must closely track those who have been exposed, and a travel ban would also make this far more difficult. One of the major reasons for Ebola spreading in West Africa is an atmosphere which causes people who have been exposed to hide this until they are very sick and courageous. We must avoid an atmosphere such as this in the United States if we are going to prevent spread here.

We see in Nigeria that Ebola can be beaten, with the country now being free of the disease. Among the measures cited for eradicating Ebola are avoiding fear and keeping the borders open:

Nigeria has not closed its borders to travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, saying the move would be counterproductive. “Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness,” Shuaib said. “When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem.” Shuaib said that if public health strategies are implemented, outbreaks can be controlled, and that closing borders would only stifle commercial activities in the countries whose economies are already struggling due to Ebola.

Similarly, Republicans are playing on exaggerated fears of terrorism and unfounded claims that the Affordable Care Act will cause increases in premiums when insurance companies are actually reporting plans for lower premium increases than were the norm prior to Obamacare.

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Leon Panetta and Jimmy Carter’s Irrational Attacks On Obama

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy from those of both parties who fail to recognize that we were placed in a situation with no good outcome the moment George Bush invaded Iraq. Leon Panetta has been all over the talk shows promoting his book, which echoes the criticism of Obama from Hillary Clinton.

Seeing the poor logic in these attacks makes me glad that Obama as opposed to either Clinton or a Republican have been calling the shots. It is easy to say that acting sooner would have helped, but no real evidence of this. The situation which allowed ISIS to develop and succeed in Iraq were created by the American intervention and subsequent actions of the Malacki government.

The actual advice given makes no sense. Arming Syrian moderates last year would have just led to increased bloodshed and more weapons in the hands of ISIS. Propping up Malicki longer was a dead-end policy, even if the United States could have stayed despite the desire of the Iraqui government for us to leave. While Panetta has criticized him over not bombing in Syria, Obama showed wisdom, not weakness, when he backed away from the military option when there was a diplomatic option to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The Neocon policies have been disastrous, causing this mess and Obama was right in opposing them, and attempting to disengage from the region. The Clinton/Panetta line is a repeat of the Bush/Cheney line and the current Clinton/Panetta attacks are no more credible than the attacks we are hearing from Dick Cheney

Other attacks are more petty. In a dispute between the White House and Pentagon over not giving the Pentagon everything it wants, I’ll generally side with the White House. It comes down to money on two levels. Now Panetta is cashing in to make money on his book, along with doing Hillary’s dirty work.

Kevin Drum put Panetta’s world-view in context:

…his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he’s a “strong leader on security issues.” But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn’t acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he’s “kind of lost his way.”

That’s the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don’t even seem to realize they feel this way. It’s just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we’re addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

Steve Benen had a great response to all the hypocrisy and poor arguments from the right being made by Panetta. He concluded:

The former Defense Secretary last week wrote a piece blaming Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for the chaos gripping much of the country. And yet, it was none other than Leon Panetta who defended Obama’s withdrawal policy, repeatedly, before he was trying to boost book sales.

Panetta now says he believes Obama should have pressed Iraqi officials to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. What would those troops have accomplished that they didn’t already try over the last decade? Panetta hasn’t really said. What was Obama supposed to do about the fact that Iraq wanted American servicemen and women out? Panetta hasn’t really explained that, either. Why did Panetta see a residual force as impossible in 2011, only to believe the opposite now? He hasn’t offered an explanation of this, either.

And yet, Panetta just keeps complaining, not just about Iraq, but about U.S. policy in Syria, too, where the former Pentagon chief apparently believes it’s irrelevant that Obama rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles – weapons that now can’t fall into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Making matters slightly worse, as part of Panetta’s all-out media blitz, he complained to the New York Times about Obama going to Congress last year before intervention in Syria, and then complained about Obama not going to Congress this year before intervention in Syria.

Who knows, maybe this is a terrific public-relations strategy for a guy on a book tour. If Panetta hoped to generate chatter about his book, the past couple of weeks have been a triumph. If he hoped to get White House critics interested in his memoir, Panetta has done what he set out to do.

But those looking for real insights into a sensible national security policy probably haven’t learned much from Panetta’s p.r. campaign.

I would question if Panetta’s motivation is purely to make money from his book. He is also serving the Clintons well, considering that Hillary has motivation to separate herself from Obama but cannot speak out against him to this degree without looking calculating and disloyal. Of course both possible motives are served by the same actions.

The Daily Beast has further criticism of Panetta:

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

The post went on to further criticize Panetta’s current ideas on what Obama should have done, along with his support for using force without adequate recognition of the consequences of using force, or of the positive benefits of Obama achieving an agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Jimmy Carter  has also raised similar attacks but the same issues remain that intervention earlier would have probably worsened the situation in Iraq and Syria. It is also easy to criticize in retrospect, but his current attacks are not consistent with previous criticism of Obama whichwere for being too aggressive.

While I have qualms about some of Obama’s actions, from drones to the current bombing, he is looking far better than most of those who are now attacking him.

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Bill Maher Reconsidering Idea Of Voting For Rand Paul Due To His Denial Of Climate Change

Bill Maher has previously said he might consider voting for Rand Paul if he were to run against Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. It is certainly understandable why someone might give this a thought in light of Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views but this idea breaks down with a closer look at Rand Paul. Maher found that Paul is not as anti-war as he would prefer, but another issue is a real deal-breaker:

Maher said he was most attracted to Paul because of the senator’s general views on foreign policy, though he’s not a fan of his recent support for bombing ISIS.

“He’s great on ending the empire, not getting into any more foreign entanglements — I’m even to the left of him on the bombing (of ISIS); he wants to keep bombing ISIS, I want us to stop bombing altogether,” he said.

While Maher donated $1 million to a super PAC backing President Barack Obama in 2012, he has been less than enthusiastic about a potential Clinton presidency, especially when it comes to her foreign policy.

But Maher told Salon there’s stark daylight between him and Paul on a different issue.

“I had drinks with him about two weeks ago. He’s a nice guy, he’s a smart guy. My big problem is I asked him about the environment, which is my big issue,” Maher said. “He had made a comment that was very similar to what Dick Cheney said about a month or two ago, which was basically, ‘Why are we talking the environment when ISIS is out there?’ I said, ‘Senator, y’know, you sounded just like Dick Cheney.’ “

Last month, Paul blasted Clinton for saying climate change marked the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”

“I don’t think we really want a commander in chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism,” Paul said on Fox News.

Maher said that Paul’s answer on the environment was “wholly unsatisfactory” and that the senator would lose his vote based entirely on that issue unless Paul comes up with a better answer.

“This is the deal-breaker issue with me. You’ve got to be good on this or, I’m sorry, not going to happen,” Maher said.

In an ideal world, we would be able to exclude someone such as Hillary Clinton who backed the Iraq war with claims of a connection between Sadaam and al Qaeda. However in such an ideal world, we would also not have a major political party which denies science, including the scientific consensus on climate change. In addition to drumming up fear about terrorism, it makes no sense to say we cannot deal with climate change due to the presence of another problem. It is as if Paul and Cheney are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Salon has more on Rand Paul’s anti-scientific views, related to both climate change and Ebola:

In a breathless “exclusive,” Breitbart News revealed that Paul thinks the Obama administration is misleading the public about the nature of the threat and how the disease is spread. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul claimed. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats—the whole works?”

You might think an ophthalmologist (though he’s not board certified) would be more responsible about spreading health panic. But you’d be wrong. “Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.

Health experts shot Paul down almost immediately. “I don’t think that there’s data to tell us that that’s a correct statement, with all due respect,” NIH veteran Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have had experience since 1976 with how Ebola is transmitted. And it is clear that it’s transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, blood, diarrhea, vomit, or what have you.

“And there’s no indication that there is another insidious way that it’s transmitted that we’re missing because of the experience that we’ve had. So, we’ve really gotta go with the evidence base. There’s always hypothesis and surmising about that, but there’s no scientific evidence,” Fauci added.

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sleepy Hollow; Outlander; Agents of SHIELD; Gracepoint; Blacklist; Arrow; Supergirl; The DC Cinematic Universe; Revenge; How I Met Your Mother Alternate Ending

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Doctor Who‘s third episode of the Capaldi era, Robot of Sherwood, was the lightest of the season. The episode, written by Mark Gatiss, almost seemed to be outside of the continuity of the season, being a story which could be watched at any time and which could easily have happened under Matt Smith or an earlier Doctor. The episode begins with Clara on the TARDIS, showing nothing of her home life, ignoring the recent addition of Danny Pink to the show. There are no scenes of Missy, but there was a brief reference to a space ship searching for the Promised Land.

The episode does have several references to classic Doctor Who. For example, the black and white still of Robin Hood from the TARDIS database is from a 1953 BBC show in which Patrick Troughton played Robin.

Despite the Doctor’s insistence that “I am totally against bantering,” the episode is amusing for its banter between the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood, along with its mocking of the traditional tropes of the action/adventure show. This was best seen in the dungeon scene as the Doctor and Robin discussed their plans to escape. They  included the classics: “get interrogated and turn the tables” and “pretend to be sick so the jailer will come in.” Clara excluded one Doctor Who solution which is utilized too often: “Can you explain your plan without using the words ‘sonic screwdriver'”? For once, an enemy took the sonic screwdriver away.

The Doctor had his own unique answer to the hero who fights but carries no weapon: “I don’t need a sword. Because I am the Doctor. And this is my spoon.” There was also a look at the nature of legends and heroism. Instead of being compared to the Daleks in Into the Dalek, this week the Doctor was compared to Robin Hood, even if it took a while for the Doctor to acknowledge Robin’s”reality” within this universe. We knew from the title that robots were involved, but it was not clear until the end as to who would be real and who would be robots.

Above is the Doctor Who Extra for Robot of Sherwood. While I posted the Doctor Who Extra for Into the Dalek with last week’s review, I initially did not post the video for Deep Breath as initially it was available for view within the U.K. only. Doctor Who Extra has since been made available internationally. The video for Deep Breath can be viewed here.

One scene was cut from the broadcast episode involving a decapitation in response to the recent decapitation of two journalists by ISIS. DoctorWhoTV described the cut scene:

In the original version of the final sword fight, the Sheriff gets the upper hand on Robin disarming him and putting his sword to his neck. Robin looks doomed but the Doctor throws a cloth tapestry over the Sheriff blinding him. Robin picks back up his sword and decapitates the Sheriff. His head rolling across the floor.

Clara congratulates Robin on his apparent victory, but the Sheriff’s severed head suddenly starts talking! He reveals that the skyship fell on him and the knights made him half-robot.

Behind Clara the Sheriff’s body gets back up and puts a sword to her throat ordering the Doctor and Robin to surrender. Robin picks up the Sheriff’s head and throws it back to the Sheriff’s headless body. He puts his head back on. And the fight scene resumes as was shown.

In total about a minute of footage was lost and of course the reveal that the Sheriff was a robot.

Next week’s episode, Listen, sounds much darker, despite reportedly containing Clara and Danny’s first date. The episode is being compared to perhaps Steven Moffat’s greatest episode so far, Blink. Trailer above.

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Sleepy Hollow had poor timing with their National Headless Day promotion, and did not manage to get this canceled before seen as Doctor Who did with its beheading scene. For more mundane promotion, here is the official synopsis of the first episode of season two:

Episode 2.01 – This Is War (22-Sep-2014)
In Sleepy Hollow, it would seem as though the status quo has been restored, but things in the formerly quaint town are never truly as they appear. Even now, how Crane managed to escape being betrayed and buried alive by his son, Jeremy (aka Henry Parish, aka the newly minted Horseman of War), or how Abbie freed herself from Purgatory, remains a mystery… even to them. What appears certain however is that while both Katrina and Jenny have apparently been lost, the Two Witnesses have not abandoned their quest to fight tirelessly against Moloch and his minions. Meanwhile, Moloch’s malevolent forces use all the powers at their disposal in an attempt to locate a key – once belonging to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin – which is capable of unlocking the gates of Purgatory. After using his unique skills on an unanticipated prisoner, Sin-Eater Henry Parish discovers a clue which points him in the direction of the valuable artifact, but Crane is intent on finding it first. While in Purgatory, Moloch works to raise a demonic army in preparation for his invasion, but those who would prevent the hoard’s advent get help from an unexpected source. Meanwhile, we learn that Jenny and Katrina are both still alive, though each is being held prisoner for vastly different reasons, and Crane takes the inadvisable action of re-entering Purgatory in order to fulfill a promise.

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Doctor Who is no longer the only time travel show on Saturdays. Even before Outlander began, critics who received the first six episodes were saying the sixth was by far the best. With the cliff hanger last night,next week’s episode, The Garrison Commander does look like it could be a major episode.

Claire was left with a big decision. She could tell the Red Coats that she was willingly with Dougal and stick with the enemy she knows, knowing she does have Jamie to protect her, or risk the unknown of seeing whether the British would really treat her any better. From the previews it looks like she does wind up with the Red Coats, but that doesn’t explain the situation under which this occurs or what her answer is. The episode also had added interest when Claire understood that Dougal’s motives were more noble than she first thought, but that he and his clan were ultimately doomed. She experienced the  frustration of being a time traveler and being unable to do anything about the future.

ABC has released a synopsis for the second season of Agents of SHIELD:

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” returns for a dynamic, action-packed second season, with newly appointed Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) – now the keeper of the secrets — charged with rebuilding and restoring government and public trust in S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the events of “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” where it was revealed evil Hydra agents had infiltrated the organization. Ever since the existence of super heroes and aliens became public knowledge after the Battle of New York, the world has been trying to come to grips with this new reality. Agent Phil Coulson, who had died at the hands of Loki during the battle, was resuscitated and brought back into action, assembling a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission: to protect those who cannot protect themselves from threats they cannot conceive.

But the biggest threat was growing from within, as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s old enemy, Hydra – a dangerous extremist group Captain America fought against in World War II – had secretly infiltrated and infected the organization at the highest levels. Once revealed to the public, S.H.I.E.L.D., including Coulson and his team, was discredited and made to look like the enemy. The world now views S.H.I.E.L.D. as untrustworthy, and it’s Coulson’s job to change that opinion.

After helping to thwart Hydra, Coulson was appointed as Director and tasked with rebuilding the agency. This won’t be an easy job to accomplish with the majority of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents either killed, secretly working for Hydra or free agents. Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), expert pilot, martial artist and longtime friend, will continue to look after Coulson in the wake of the mysterious etchings he’s been carving into walls. What do these etchings mean, and can Coulson be trusted? Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), highly trained in combat and espionage, was found to be a Hydra mole and a traitor to S.H.I.E.L.D. and locked up away from the world and his former teammates. But this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him… After being left to die in the middle of the ocean by Ward, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), brilliant engineer, and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), genius bio-chemist, found a way to escape their watery grave. But all did not go well for Fitz, who was left in a coma and may never regain his full cognitive functions; a devastating blow to Simmons. And computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet), now a full-fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, discovered her origins as a 0-8-4 — an object of unknown origin – and that her parents were considered “monsters.” Could Skye have darkness lying dormant inside of her? Also joining Coulson’s core team is Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), a dashing mercenary sharp shooter with a quick wit. Since he didn’t rise up through the ranks, does he have an ulterior motive for helping out the team?

Who can Coulson trust?

Fox has released a teaser for Gracepoint, staring David Tennant and Anna Gunn. It just feels like Broachchurch where they got things wrong.

There are some spoilers for season two of The Blacklist here.

Arrow has cast Matt Nable in the role of Ra’s Al Ghul. Thea will also have a new love interest.

Supergirl might be the next DC character to get her own television series.

The Nerdist has a look at what is known about the planned DC cinematic universe which follow Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. Future movies include the Justice League of America, Shazam, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. AV Club has more on Shazam on how it will differ from other DC movies.

There’s further talk about a movie version of 24.

Syfy is planning a six part miniseries adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. If done well, this could be one of the network’s greatest features to date.

Revenge tried to drag out the storyline from its first season way too long, and it looks like they are making the right decision in changing the show around. BuddyTV has some spoilers as to what will change next season:

With David Clarke’s name cleared, will Emily’s quest for revenge be over? Conrad was imprisoned and is now presumably dead and the great Victoria Grayson has been left to rot in a mental institution. Plus, Emily’s father is actually alive!

That will be an awkward reunion. Emily went against her father’s wishes and left the sweet Amanda Clarke behind and became a ruthless killer instead. Her life will be turned upside-down with the news.

Executive Producer Gretchen J. Berg teased, “The drive of season four will be Emily discovering who Amanda Clarke is and Emily figuring out her new life with her father in it. I don’t want to say when she’s going to discover that, but that’s going to be our arc for the season.”

In addition to Emily unraveling her true identity, it looks like she’ll have to contend with being the target of someone else’s revenge. The tides have turned!

Victoria does the voice over for the first Revenge Season 4 Trailer, “My name is Victoria Grayson and I have a story to tell. Over the past three years my family was destroyed, the love of my life murdered, my freedom taken away. When everything you love has been stolen from you, someone has to pay. Emily Thorne, I’m coming for you.”

…When we last saw Jack, he was being arrested for Charlotte’s kidnapping. He’ll take the cuffs off and become the one putting them on others when he becomes a cop. Yes, Jack likely will be donning a uniform!

What will happen when Emily and Victoria find out David’s alive? Executive Producer Aaron Harberts told EOnline, “He may not be the most emotionally and psychologically stable and if Victoria is the first person to get to David, she might be in control of that guy, which sort of presents her power running through the season,”

Copies of the promised alternate ending to How I Met Your Mother have been appearing on line but have been taken down. I don’t know how long it will be here, but at the time of posting I have found the above video of the entire final episode, with alternate ending to the finale starting around 37 minutes in. The options are somewhat limited as it can only contain what was already filmed, but it does have new narration from Bob Saget. While the alternate ending therefore could not show any new scenes of Ted and Tracy in the future, it was still a far better ending for the series than the one that aired.

As I discussed in my review of the finale, the ending made sense when first filmed early in the series run, but no longer made sense from where the show ultimately wound up. Viewers had too much invested in Tracy in the final season to just see her quickly die. Having Ted and Robin ultimately get together was the obvious ending during the first season, but it no longer made sense to have Robin and Barney break up for this to occur after spending so much time making this implausible relationship make sense, and spending the entire final season at their wedding.

While we were denied more scenes of Ted and Tracy leading up to the moment when Ted was telling the story to his children, there remains the opportunity to see Cristin Miloti alive, but in a different relationship, on the upcoming sit-com, A to Z. The pilot has been released for early viewing.

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