Shocking: Russia Caught “Meddling” It Its Own Parliamentary Elections

Hysteria about Russia, fueled by Hillary Clinton’s drive to divert blame for her loss to Donald Trump, continues to spread. The scare about Russian Facebook ads and Twitter accounts looks ridiculous when the facts are seriously analyzed. We are repeatedly seeing hysterical headlines, sometimes claiming to contain the smoking gun, only to quickly find that the initial report was incorrect. A column at Bloomberg News looked at some recent examples, starting with the report that money was sent by Russia to embassies with the indication, “to finance election campaign of 2016.” To some that was seen as proof that Russia rigged the 2016 election. The more plausible response:

The Trump-Russia story is becoming surreal. It’s worth pausing for a minute and applying a tool that’s getting rusty from disuse — Occam’s razor, and specifically Isaac Newton’s take on it: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

Here’s a simple example. BuzzFeed on Tuesday came out with a story about the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation checking into 60 transfers sent by the Russian Foreign Ministry to embassies around the world with a note that the money was meant “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Russia says that meant the Russian parliamentary election that took place in September 2016, not the U.S. presidential election. The voting for that election was organized in 147 countries; some 1.9 million Russian expatriates could come to hundreds of diplomatic missions to cast their votes, though only some 216,000 ended up doing so.

This is an obvious, simple explanation for the transfers. If U.S. election interference was intended with the funds, would a Russian government agency openly transfer money to “finance” it and label it as such? Why would the Foreign Ministry transfer money for a U.S. election meddling effort to dozens of diplomatic missions far from U.S. shores? The transfers arrived in early August, just in time to organize the polling stations for the Sept. 18 Russian election. But BuzzFeed pumped up the drama: “Just as the U.S. presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington.” After the story ran, the Russian Foreign Ministry provided the obvious explanation; BuzzFeed added it to the piece without altering its ominous tone.

So the latest smoking gun re Russia showed that Russia was “meddling” in the Russian parliamentary elections.

The same column looked at the exchange of email between Donald Trump, Jr. and Wikileaks, which fueled attacks on Wikileaks after one of the messages was  edited in a way that seems to play into the Clinton attacks that Wikileaks aligned with Russia. Their bogus claims tying Wikileaks to Russia leads to the false claims that Donald Trump, Jr. communicating with Wikileaks is an act of collusion with Russia.

The actual text of the exchange looks more like Wikileaks was trying to entice Donald Trump, Jr. into releasing his father’s tax returns by acting as if Wikileaks was trying to help Trump. It certainly would have made no sense for Wikileaks to have acted neutral or pro-Clinton in such negotiations. This is also consistent with Assange’s statements that he regretted that his releases of information on the 2016 presidential candidates were limited to Clinton, but Trump did not have a government record to expose. Releasing Trump’s tax returns would have certainly provided such desired balance. Unfortunately Donald Trump, Jr., who has shown a willingness to collude with not only Wikileaks but with Russia, did not fall for this. Hopefully Trump’s tax returns will be released instead as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Of course Assange very likely did have a strong objection to Clinton considering how her record of both extreme hawkishness and extreme hostility towards government transparency conflicted with two of Assange’s priorities. He might have also been influence by the widely reported, but never verified, claims that Clinton had advocated killing Assange in a drone strike.

The Matrix made this offer which is relevant to current politics, even if the context is different: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

The number of people attacking backers of transparency such as Wikileaks and Edward Snowden again this week (including many faux-liberal Democrats) shows that far too many Americans (again including many faux-liberal Democrats) will take the blue pill over the red pill every chance they have.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; F-Bombs In Genre; Mr. Robot; Arrow; Batman In The Arrowverse; Gotham; Doctor Who; Will & Grace

With Choose Your Pain, Star Trek: Discovery revealed more about Captain Lorca, went where Star Trek has never gone before, and raised new questions. Controversies raised included two incidents on which to further question Lorca’s ethics.

We learned that Lorca had destroyed his previous ship and killed the entire crew to keep them from being captured and tortured by the Klingons, while he alone managed to survive. It may have sounded reasonable when explained by Lorca, but Star Trek fans know that Kirk or Picard would have found a way to save their crews, and would have risked death to achieve this. Lorca’s decision to leave Harry Mudd (played by Rainn Wilson) behind as a Klingon prisoner was also morally questionable, and not something Star Fleet captains we are accustomed to would have done.

While Lorca did leave Mudd behind, he did bring Ash Tyler after what seemed like too easy an escape. Was this just yet another example of a show’s protagonists having unrealistic success which has happened very frequently on television, or were they allowed to escape? There is considerable grounds to suspect that this was a trick with Ash Tyler being a Klingon spy. One popular fan theory that he is actually Voq is explained here. Of course if he is a Klingon spy, he is unlikely to get past Lorca’s pet tribble.

Discovery had the first f-bomb ever on Star Trek after Staments told Tilly of his idea to transfer Tardigrade DNA into his body. Tilly responded to the idea by saying, “You guys, this is so fucking cool.” She apologized for her language but Stamets replied, “No, Cadet. It is fucking cool.”

There was no softening of the word such as with changing it to “fraking” as on Battlestar Galactica. This sure goes beyond McCoy saying, “Damn it, Jim.” AV Club has posted a history of swearing on Star Trek.  Of course such language is common on pay cable, with basic cable being more mixed. Syfy has cut the frequent f-bombs from The Magicians in the initial showing, but later showed the first season again uncut. Presumably the second season will be released in an uncut form in the future. On the other hand, I noticed such language being left uncut on Mr. Robot last week.

After Trek also showed a sneak peak of tonight’s episode with Burnham and Tilly wearing Disco t-shirts. Is disco still alive, or (more likely) is this a shortened form for the name of their ship?Possibly the producers are hoping that fans refer to Star Trek: Discovery as Disco as opposed to the abbreviation STD. Last week’s episode also had a very rare (but not the first) scene of a Star Trek bathroom. Plus we learned that they have not yet learned a more modern, futuristic way to fight tooth decay than brushing, and the suspicions about Stamets and Dr. Culber were confirmed.

The DNA transfer done by Stamets might actually not be all that cool based upon what we saw in the mirror at the end of the episode. Does this mean that the spores connect not only throughout the universe, but also into the Mirror universe? If so, this could be yet another reason why the spore drive is not used (or mentioned) on subsequent series.

Besides the introduction to Harry Mudd and telling us more about Lorca, Stamets, and Culber, the episode also revealed more about  Saru, who does have difficulties assuming the role of Captain, even if all worked out in this episode. There was another nod to continuity in the list of decorated captains which came up: Robert April, Jonathan Archer, Matthew Decker, Christopher Pike, and Captain Georgiou.

Besides including f-bombs as I mentioned above, Mr. Robot was notable last week for Elliot getting the cairn terrier back. As for the even more meaningful aspects of the show, Sam Esmail was interviewed by The Guardian.  The article began:

When Mr Robot first aired, two years ago, it was hailed for its timeliness. A serial drama about a nefarious hacking group taking on corporate power felt right for the age of Anonymous and banking failure. Now, in 2017, the existing two seasons can look a little dated; why spend ages plotting to bring down the west when the US president can do it with a tweet?

While a lot has changed in two years, there is a sense of vindication for Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail. The ideas the 40-year-old wanted to explore in this drama – his first TV show, which he wrote, directed, produced and edited himself – are still playing out in reality.

“One thing I’ve noticed about the show is that it feels like a period piece of today,” Esmail says. “The world is so heavily influenced by technology and it has started to feel like it’s not on solid ground. The world has become unreliable, unknowable. Facts are vulnerable and things you have come to rely on are no longer there. It’s an overlap that I’m not going to be so bold as to say I predicted, but that was what I was thinking about when I constructed the character of [protagonist] Elliot [Alderson].”

Included among the unreliable and unknowable elements of Mr Robot are the following: whether Elliot is good or bad; whether he hacked the biggest corporation in the US under instruction from the Chinese government; whether he is living at his mother’s house or in prison; whether his father is alive and, if so, why he wants to kill him; and, finally, whether or not he is really friends with 80s sitcom puppet ALF.

Should we also worry about Flipper the dog after learning about the allegedly Russian run web page full of those puppie pictures?

Oliver Queen made a reference to Bruce Wayne on Arrow last week. Having Bruce Wayne exist in his world does not mean that he is also Batman, but it does raise the question. It is more likely that Batman exists on Supergirl’s earth. After all, if Batman existed in Oliver’s world, there would be no reason for him to spend so much time fighting Batman’s foes.

TV Guide has complied a list of other references to Batman in the CW Arrowverse.

Right now Fox has the television rights to Bruce Wayne, but they have only been able to show him as partially growing into becoming Batman. Gotham is also showing the origins of other Batman characters, sometimes changing the details. Gotham introduced Solomon Grundy last week. Screen Rant reviewed his back story and how Gotham is varying from the comics.

Getting back to Arrow, Entertainment Weekly has spoken with Stephen Amell about the big changes in last week’s episode:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Oliver actually gives up the mantle of being the Green Arrow. Game changer! Can you talk about how that might affect him moving forward? Does he still get the urge to go out there? 
STEPHEN AMELL: That’s been the cool thing about this season is that he can’t. You say him giving up the mantle is the game changer, but William is the game changer. The father-son dynamic can’t possibly can’t get any stronger than that. For all of the things that Oliver’s dad did wrong, and for all the things that we have since learned about him, Oliver still reveres him and holds him up to such a high standard, so that relationship is so important. I give it to Diggle; I don’t give it to him with a heavy heart, I give it to him with a full heart. I give it to him expecting him to be able to handle it. I like the idea that I give it to him because the city needs a Green Arrow, right? The Green Arrow can be more than one person. The Green Arrow is a symbol and his team is a symbol. The fact that we are pushing Star City in the right direction is something that is important to me because I don’t want the city to get destroyed every year, because then what’s the point of what we’re doing? We’re a team of vigilantes that are the definition of insanity, because we’re just doing things over and over again and hoping for a different result. Obviously I don’t know what’s going on with Diggle, but I give it up and there’s not a lot of angst.

It’s been a very strange time for me on the show, because we’re talking about going on four episodes now where I’m really out of the mix, and that’s been challenging for me, because I prep myself to work all the time, but we had — without getting into details — a story line last year where in the aftermath of Oliver being tortured by Chase — the big torture, making him reveal his animal instincts and that he enjoyed killing at one point — the producers and I had a lot of back and forth after that about how long that should affect him, because in one iteration, he just jumped right back on the horse. I was like, “Well, if we don’t follow the through line of that affecting him, then what was the point? What was the point of it happening if it doesn’t have consequences?” So I like that he’s given the mantle to Diggle and that’s been the show since then. That, to me, is really cool.

Realistically, do you see Oliver really never suiting up again?
No. Look, I remember one season of 24 when Jack Bauer had been taken prisoner, Jack was in China. They’re like, “Well, how long of this season is Jack going to be in China for?” and the producers were like, “He’s landing like six minutes after it starts. The show is the show.” Our show’s the show, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t surprise people. If he suits back up again, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it goes back to the status quo.

In Doctor Who news this week, Matt Lucus has hinted that he might not be done with Doctor Who after the Christmas episode.

Comic Book Resources has accumulated what we know, along with rumors, about upcoming changes on Doctor Who.

Doctor Who has won an Ally Award for LGBT inclusiveness. Pearl Mackie accepted the award and made this statement:

It’s lovely to be able to accept this Award on behalf of Doctor Who. I feel quite honoured to even have been invited, let alone for Doctor Who and the character of Bill.

It’s testament to how well she was received. I met a couple of young girls who were BAME, and talked to me about how watching Bill on Doctor Who enabled them to come out and feel comfortable with their own sexuality. For me, that’s a massive achievement.

The thing that I liked most about Bill was that she wasn’t grappling with her sexuality, she didn’t need to come out, it wasn’t an issue! It was always just about, I’m gay and happy and this is who I am, this is who I like and this is who I’m in love with.

Victoria, staring Jenna Coleman, concluded its second season on ITV last week, with a Christmas episode also announced. Presumably it will be combined with the other episodes into a nine episode series when it shows in the United States. Victoria will premiere on Masterpiece on PBS on January 14, 2018.

Will & Grace had an excellent episode last week dealing with gay conversion camps. A clip is above.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The Orville; Doctor Who

Overall I was very impressed with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. While there are some aspects I question, overall it did feel like Star Trek, both modernized by the improved special effect available and the more serialized story telling common on television today.

I do question both whether the Vulcan salute would have been effective in this situation against the Klingons and whether someone, after serving for seven years on a Federation Starship, would disobey the captain in this manner. For now I will accept the premise that an implausible but possible event did occur and give the writers the opportunity to see where they take this. From various interviews (such as here) it does appear that they have given this matter, and sticking with established Star Trek canon, considerable consideration.

Michael Burnham does follow in a long Star Trek tradition of characters with identity issues, including Spock, Data, Seven of Nine, and the Emergency Medical Hologram. Captain Georgiou’s quick recovery from the Vulcan nerve pinch was important to the plot, but also has me wondering what we will see in the future in terms of both Burnham acting as a Vulcan and the limitations of a human doing so. The first two episodes seemed to summarize what could have been another seven year series about the Shenzou, with Burnham showing considerable growth from how she appeared in the flashback at the start of the second episode.

There was a tendency to use special effects because they could, sometimes benefiting the episode, and sometimes being unnecessary. I did question seeing Burnham flying to the Klingon ship in only in her spacesuit. On the other hand, there is no question that they should modernize the look of the bridge from the 1960’s instrument panels of the original show. Despite the modernization of the ship, they had the old style sound effects down perfect. The changing look of Klingons over time has been around since The Next Generation moved beyond the simplistic look from The Original Show and it is best not to question this.

The use of holograms for communication seemed an unnecessary change from the on screen communications we are accustomed to. It is important that this does fit within Star Trek canon, but there are also limits to the degree fans should demand this be true of every detail. Once something is shown on Discovery, by definition it does become canon. As holograms are based upon science already existing this could be explained as Star Fleet experimenting with this, abandoning it for a while, and then trying again in the Deep Space 9 era when it was seen again. (My theory to make this all consistent is that Star Fleet admirals had taken up working with their pants off between the years of Discovery and The Original Show and therefore demanded communications based upon above-the waist view screens as opposed to full body holograms.)

I also had my doubts about the communication between Burnham and Sarek, and unless this becomes important for future episodes, the story could have easily been written without utilizing this.

Despite such nitpicks, the show looks very promising. While I have some doubts about the details of the issue, it is typical Star Trek to raise the question of whether the Federation would shoot first even if more expedient. Even if less extreme, there is also a long history of Star Trek heroes breaking the rules. While some of the scenes with Klingon subtitles did get a little long, I am glad they are showing the Klingons as more than a one dimensional villain.

They did an excellent job both with production values and in keeping the story interesting, including ending each of the first episodes with a cliff hanger which should make viewers want to keep watching. If this was on Netflix instead of CBS All Access and the full season was available, I would have kept watching longer.

Despite small elements which some might argue violate canon, at least they did not destroy Vulcan as J.J. Abrams did with the flimsy excuse that it was s different timeline. Even if we might question Michael’s existence in Sarek’s family, it appears this series will be well tied into other aspects of canon related to Vulcans. This includes the addition of Sarek’s wife Amanda to the series, with Mia Kirshner cast for the role.

I have been rooting for The Orville to succeed, but have also recognized it problems. The show has received considerable criticism, with there being no need to repeat that once again. The show also does have its fans. For balance I’ll link to this reviewSeth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ Is The ‘Star Trek’ Show Fans Have Been Waiting For. Some excerpts follow:

By not having a budget (or requirements) for wall-to-wall spectacle, the hour-long Fox show is forced to focus on character, chemistry, sci-fi plotting and moral debates that have partially defined Gene Roddenberry’s property for generations. Yes, to a certain extent it’s fan fiction, but then so is so much of our current pop culture entertainment. But by being a network television show, it is forced to be the kind of Star Trek that fans claim the recent movies have neglected in favor of four-quadrant blockbuster thrills. The Orville is not a spoof, but rather a straight-faced Trek show with characters who are funny and can laugh at funny events…

Sans the pressure to be bigger, bolder, faster, and free from the budget and expectations that demand big-scale action sequences and “the world is in peril” plotting, The Orville uses its adventure of the week format to explore modern-day social issues and tackle current moral dilemmas in a sci-fi venue. I like its characters, and I like that they are good at what they do and seem to like each other. The show is refreshingly progressive in its politics, and optimistic to its core. It is a Star Trek show for folks who want something a bit old-school.

Again, I haven’t seen the third episode of Star Trek Discovery, and I frankly don’t wish to make it a competition. The best-case scenario is that the CBS show, with a superb lead in Sonequa Martin-Green, offers high-quality, big-scale Star Trek while Fox’s “homage” offers a more traditional Trek which emphasizes cast chemistry and social issues of the day. For those fans who were turned off by the jokey previews and commercials, I’d suggest giving The Orville another shot, starting perhaps with the second episode which begins to spotlight the supporting cast.

The irony is that, by ripping off rather than revamping and by being hamstrung by network television production values and thus putting an emphasis on character and social parable over sci-fi action, The Orville has a pretty good shot at becoming the kind of Star Trek that fans claim to want so badly. I’m hoping this variation indeed lives long and prospers.

The review is rather generous, but I do want to give The Orville the chance to correct its flaws. I do agree with Screen Rant that, No, The Orville Is Not Better Than Star Trek: Discovery. Of course it does not have to be a competition and we can enjoy each series for the different things it tries to accomplish.

While we are now getting two versions of one of the great science fiction franchises which started in the 1960’s, we have to wait until December to see more of Doctor Who. I still plan to try to post Doctor Who news regularly while we wait. This week Pearl Mackie has told Radio Times that the Christmas episode will be an emotional farewell for Peter Capaldi:

The final farewell of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the departure of well-loved companion Bill Potts, the groundbreaking introduction of the first ever female Doctor – the signs were always there.

But just in case you were in any doubt, Pearl Mackie can confirm that, yes, this is indeed going to be an emotional Doctor Who Christmas special…

“I’d say have a box of tissues close at hand,” Mackie tells RadioTimes.com. “As to be expected: it’s Peter’s last episode as the Doctor and my last episode as well.”

But is it? Given that Mackie’s character Bill had supposedly made her last appearance at the end of series ten – only to be handed a comeback in the special immediately afterwards – should we even trust that this is the last we’ll see of her?

“One of the wonderful things about Doctor Who is that the world of possibilities is endless,” teases Mackie, “so I guess, never say never…”

We can also hope to see the return of others beyond Bill. Radio Times also reports that Alex Kingston would like to see a reunion with Captain Jack:

Both time-travelling lotharios who love conning their way around the galaxy with a vortex manipulator, we can’t help but feel they’d do well in their own Doctor Who spin-off, or even just an episode where they finally meet – and now it turns out that River Song actor Alex Kingston feels the exact same way.

“I think it’d be great if she met with Captain Jack Harkness,” Kingston said at Edmonton Expo in Canada. “It’s funny because John and I, we talk about, we imagine, fantasise about all the possibilities.”

She also said, “Not necessarily a spin-off show, but it kind of would be great if even the Doctor happened upon a bar in the universe where River and Captain Jack happened to be sitting, having a drink or something. I think it’d be cool!”

Report That Trump Suspects Steve Bannon Being Leaker, Placing His Job In Jeopardy

As the picture for yesterday’s post includes a picture of someone protesting against Steve Bannon (along with calling for the impeachment of Trump and Pence), today’s news from Axios is of interest. Jonathan Swan reports that Trump suspects Bannon of leaking, putting job in jeopardy. From the start of his post:

  • Trump has told associates he’s fed up with what he sees as self-promotion by Bannon, who did not join the core team this week at the president’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
  • Bannon’s time with Trump has diminished since the new chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, took over and imposed discipline on the circus around the Oval Office.
  • Bannon declined to comment.
  • Why it matters: POTUS has been frustrated with Bannon in the past, but he never had as easy a vehicle for getting rid of him. Kelly is expected to make West Wing changes, anyway. As one top aide said: “Kelly can do the dirty work.”
  • Now Bannon is a man on an island, with very few true allies in the building.

As Swan also pointed out, this is not the first time that Bannon appeared to be in trouble, and survived. Bringing in John Kelly as chief of staff might change things.

Whatever happens, watching the Trump administration is like watching the evil mirror universe version (as in Star Trek) of The West Wing.

Trump’s Restraint In Tweeting During Comey Testimony Did Not Last Long

One of the biggest surprises on the day James Comey testified before Congress is that Donald Trump’s lawyers were temporarily able to dissuade him from going ahead and responding on Twitter as he had previously planned. It had to be quite difficult considering how Comey was saying that Trump’s stated reasons for lying “were lies, plain and simple.”

After staying quiet during the testimony, Trump ultimately tweeted: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

Trump is threatening legal action against Comey for releasing memos concerning the content of their meetings. Philip Bump looked into the legality of Trump retaliating against Comey:

President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump — though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of criminal misconduct.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment…

“The constitutional right to go to the press with information on matters of public concern, as long as you’re not doing it in a way that will bring out classified information,” Kohn said, “the reason why that is protected constitutionally is that the courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the public has a constitutional right to hear this information.” In other words, it’s constitutionally protected speech.

Trump now says he is willing to testify under oath about Comey’s statements. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury related to relatively minor falsehoods unrelated to his performance as president. Any false statements made by Trump under oath with regards to the firing of the FBI Director should be an even more serious matter.

Comey’s testimony did not provide any evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia to alter the results of the election as many Democrats claim occurred, but did provide further suggestion of obstruction of justice. BBC News provided this analysis:

In one of those exchanges, the president said he “hoped” Mr Comey could “find his way” to dropping an investigation into then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a Trump ally who was under scrutiny over his ties to Russia.

We knew that already – Mr Comey made details of the meeting public several weeks ago – and Committee Republicans sought on Thursday to paint it as an innocent exchange: “I hope” was not an instruction, they said.

The former FBI director declined to offer his own opinion at the hearing on whether the president was attempting to obstruct justice, saying only that he found their exchange “very disturbing”. Whether the president had broken the law would be a matter for special counsel investigator Robert Mueller to decide, he said.

So what’s changed? Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law professor and former federal prosecutor, said the oral testimony gave new and legally significant insight into how Mr Comey interpreted the president’s words in the moment.

“The critical aspect of an obstruction case is assessing the intent of the speaker and whether it was corrupt,” Mr Whiting said. “People communicate with much more than words, and some of the best evidence for what a speaker meant can be how the speaker was understood at the time.”

Mr Comey’s testified on Thursday that he clearly understood Mr Trump to be pushing him to drop the inquiry. We also heard for the first time that the president cleared the room before making the remarks, removing even Mr Comey’s boss, the attorney general.

Added to that, Mr Comey, who has a long history of high-profile legal positions and who took meticulous notes directly after his meetings with the president, was a “dream witness”, Mr Whiting said. “I think if you take together his written and oral testimony together, he has now made a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.

Interpretation of the hearings comes down to whether you believe James Comey or Donald Trump. The suggestion that Trump might have tapes certainly did not scare Comey. The quote of the day out of the hearings was Comey saying:  “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If there are, my bet is that any tapes made by Donald Trump will be as devastating to him as the tapes made by Richard Nixon.

Sean Spitzer Says Hitler Didn’t Sink To Using Chemical Weapons

Sean Spicer has presented a lot of alternative facts, but this one really has shocked the world. CNN reports:

“You had someone who was despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “So you have to, if you are Russia, ask yourself is this a country and a regime that you want to align yourself with.”

File this with the statement on Holocaust Day which failed to mention Jews.

Peter Capaldi Announces Plans To Leave Doctor Who

During an interview on BBC Radio 2, Peter Capaldi announced he plans to leave Doctor Who, with his last appearance to be on the 2017 Christmas special. Radio Times Reports:

The actor was speaking with BBC Radio 2’s Jo Whiley during a special Evening in with Peter Capaldi when he revealed that he had decided it was time to say goodbye to the Whoniverse.

“One of the greatest privileges of being Doctor Who is to see the world at its best” he told Whiley. “From our brilliant crew and creative team working for the best broadcaster on the planet, to the viewers and fans whose endless creativity, generosity and inclusiveness points to a brighter future ahead. I can’t thank everyone enough. It’s been cosmic.”

“For years before I ever imagined being involved in Doctor Who, or had ever met the man, I wanted to work with Peter Capaldi”, departing Doctor Who boss Steven Moffatt said in an official statement.

“I could not have imagined that one day we’d be standing on the TARDIS together. Like Peter, I’m facing up to leaving the best job I’ll ever have, but knowing I do so in the company of the best, and kindest and cleverest of men, makes the saddest of endings a little sweeter” Moffatt added.

Capaldi’s last season as the twelfth Doctor will start in April, which will also be Steven Moffat’s last season as show runner. Just over one year ago we got the news that Chris Chibnall, creator of Broadchurch, will be taking over for Moffat.

If Capaldi follows the pattern of Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman after they left Doctor Who, perhaps he will take a leading role in a drama about a member of the British royalty.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; Westworld; Aftermath; Stranger Things; Supergirl; Agents of SHIELD; Doctor Who News

Star Trek Discovery

Bryan Fuller has explained the name Discovery was chosen for the upcoming Star Trek series:

“This ship is called the Discovery for a few reasons,” Fuller explained. “Not the least of which is Stanley Kubrick’s contribution to the Discovery on 2001: A Space Odyssey, NASA’s vessel the Discovery, and also the sense of discovery.” He added that the title of Star Trek: Discovery was also about “what the word ‘discovery’ means to Star Trek audiences who have been promised a future by Gene Roddenberry where we come together as a planet and seek new worlds and new alien races to explore and understand and collaborate with.” Fuller went on to say that sense of discovering would manifest as the show reintroduces new and familiar aliens, ships, and technology to the Star Trek universe.

 TV Guide reports that there will be more than just a television series:

Star Trek: Discovery is going really, really big when it debuts on CBS — before moving to CBS’ All Access portal in January of 2017: not just with a new ship, new aliens and new planets; but a novel and comic book series, too.

Kristen Beyer, who’s overseeing a line of Star Trek novels, announced the big plans for the series at the Star Trek: Mission New York convention this weekend, where she and Nicholas Meyer, writer and director of the acclaimed movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, celebrated the franchise’s 50-year milestone.

At the gathering, Beyer said that longtime Star Trek author David Mack will write the Discovery tie-in novel, while writer Mike Johnson will have a hand in developing the comic series. “We’re creating these in real time [with the show],” Beyer said, according to a report from Yahoo. “They’re going to support the story in a way we don’t normally have the chance to do.”

HBO has a new trailer for Westworld.

Westworld looks quite promising but looking at the trailer, I have my doubts about Aftermath. It looks like they tried to throw in far too much, but we won’t know until actual episodes are on, and perhaps others will find this above trailer more compelling  than I did.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Alex Glen/REX/Shutterstock (5585090cg) Alison Brie 'How To Be Single' film premiere, London, Britain - 09 Feb 2016 WEARING DAVID KOMA

Netflix has picked up season two of Stranger Things. The second season will contain nine episodes and take place in 1984. That is not the only Netflix series to take place in the 1980’s. Netflix has also picked up G.L.O.W., a ten-episode comedy by Jenji Kohan of Orange Is The New Black. The series about a 1980s female wrestling league is primarily of interest as it will star Alison Brie of Community and Mad Men.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow fortunately is being largely redone for the second season. Trailer above. The addition of the Justice Society of America gives another reason to give the series a second chance.

Superman Supergirl

Supergirl will finally show Superman on screen second season. The first set pictures of Superman (played by Tyler Hoechlin ) with Supergirl have been posted this week.

Among the changes on Agents of SHIELD include the addition of Ghost Rider. More at The Hollywood Reporter.

Grimm has been renewed for a thirteen episode final season.

Karen-Gillan-karen-gillan-13197795-450-650

Radio Times reports that Doctor Who has had a huge influence on names in England and Wales:

Amelia – the dearly departed Amelia Pond of course – is the most popular girls’ name in England and Wales for 2015. Even more significantly, Clara entered the top 100 for the very first time in 2015 – the same year as Clara Oswald’s final moments in the Tardis.

Rose (Tyler), Martha (Jones), Sarah (Jane), Victoria (Waterfield – an assistant to the second Doctor) and Grace (Holloway – pal to the eighth Doctor) all feature in the top 100 names for girls.

In fact, according to our calculations, 3 per cent of all girls born in 2015 were named after Doctor Who companions.

And the boys? Well, Rory (Williams) and Michael (‘Mickey’ Smith) both have a place in the top 100. Jack (Captain Harkness) meanwhile, is the second most popular name for boys in 2015.

I’m not so sure that we can attribute the Michaels and Jacks to Doctor Who, but is is far more likely that others such as Clara, Amelia, and Rory were influenced by the show.

Amelia Pond is also quite busy in new roles. Karen Gillan has been cast in the remake of Jumanji. This is among other upcoming roles including returning as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and a role in the movie version of The Circle.

In other Doctor Who related news, the spin-off Class has completed filming.

Charges Dropped In Freddie Gray Case

All charges have been dropped in the Freddie Gray case now that any convictions look to be very unlikely. Apparently Freddie Gray did not die of mistreatment while in police custody. He just died of being a black male. There is an epidemic of such deaths in this country.

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SciFi Weekend: Series Finales For Person of Interest and Penny Dreadful; Mr. Robot

Person of Interest Finale Finch

Person of Interest and Penny Dreadful both had their series finale in the past week. There will be major spoilers for each.

We knew from the start of the season that Person of Interest was concluding, and at times the abbreviated season felt frustrating as too much time, probably at the insistence of CBS, was spent with procedural episodes when there was so much story to tell this season. The end game started late in the season with Root being killed in the 100th episode. This led to Harold thinking more about what must be done, and the consequences of his previous decisions to limit the machine. Root got her way in having the Machine be set more free, and it adopted not only her voice but her attitude. The penultimate episode showed what would have happened to the characters if Harold had never built the Machine. Some were better off and some worse off. Either way, this convinced Harold of what he must do, as he released the Ice-9 virus.

The finale dealt with the aftermath, skipping around in time. We got a glimpse of the chaos around the world, but much of the episode centered on Harold speaking with the machine on a roof where Harold thought he was engaging in a final suicide mission to destroy Samaritan. It was fitting that much of the remainder of the episode had Finch and Reese together as the series began, ending consistent with their characters that Reese (with the help of the Machine) would sacrifice himself instead.

While there was speculation that the finale would be a blood bath, Reese was the only member of Team Machine to die. In a way Root came back from death as the personification of the Machine.   Lionel hopefully still has his pension to look forwards to. The Machine, which had failed to beat Samaritan in all those previous simulations, somehow managed to win this time, although it is not clear how. Shaw has the dog, and received a call from the Machine, now sounding like Root. She could conceivably carry on the old missions, with it also revealed recently that the Machine has other recruits. (It did seem strange that, knowing they exist, they were not called in to help in the final battle). Finch, like the Machine, received a happier ending than would have been predicted. He not only recovered from his wounds, but was reunited with Grace. Does he know that the Machine survived, and will it also call him again in the Future?

Person of Interest Finale Finch and Reese

Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman discussed the show with Deadline (part one here and part two here).

DEADLINE: Person Of Interest made artificial intelligence a central part of the story years before it became a hot topic. While most headlines today incite fear, the Machine on POI is not a threat but helps people. Jonah, why did you decide to do that and what it your position on AI, a subject that you have tackled in several projects?

NOLAN: I think it’s a nuanced one, it’s a complicated one. Part of the reason for the inception of the show or the spark for me was that I had seen many, many examples in film and TV of dystopian visions of AI. But, while the movie Her is a great example that came out a couple of years after we started making the show, it is one of the very few examples you can point towards of a positive depiction of artificial intelligence. It’s a subject that I’m kind of fascinated with, took a similar approach with the robots in Interstellar and now our current project, HBO’s Westworld, sort of exploring the same idea. I think we’ve long viewed AI as the bogeyman. That’s indicative of the way that we’ve viewed anything else that we see as a possible threat to us. Look, there’s good reason to be apprehensive.

I think the open AI initiative that Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking and others pushed for is a great idea. There needs to be transparency in what we’re doing. A lot of the stuff that’s happening right now is happening behind closed doors. It’s not science fiction to imagine that an ASI, an artificial super intelligence, will or could have an enormous impact on society. I think it’s an enormously positive impact. That’s part of what we wanted to portray but we also wanted to portray it in a very balanced way. We wanted to consider both the upside and downside of that and really get into the nitty-gritty of this. One of the things I’m proudest of for the show is this long-form conversation about how AI should play out. How unbound should it be.

For us, in this show the AI takes on the form that I think is the likeliest that it’ll take on, which is a network intelligence. Not a robot necessarily wandering around but a network intelligence that watches us and interacts with us and asks us to do things. In a sense, in this show we become the robots. Reese becomes the agent acting at the behest of this all-seeing intelligence. I think if you get to the end of this show, will you imagine that AI is an unqualified good thing? No. But I think from the beginning we wanted to portray both sides of it and the idea that a networked artificial intelligence could be a great force for good. And then you have Samaritan, I think that’s a little more familiar in terms of AI presentations where they want to take over the world. It’s abundantly clear that Samaritan would be a great force for change and good in the world but at a significant moral cost. We wanted to play in the gray area…

DEADLINE: Was this the original ending you had in mind for the series? When was that idea formed that a character will be killed off?

NOLAN: Greg, this is pretty much what we talked about from the beginning, right?

PLAGEMAN: Yeah. It seemed to spring organically from the sacrificial nature of what Reese was doing. It felt right in terms of that relationship from the very beginning. The moment Finch hired him at the end of the pilot, he said, ‘I should warn you, we’ll probably both get killed.” You almost knew at some point in time that sort of sacrifice was going to be required in order for them to ultimately defeat Samaritan and for one to allow the other to go on.

NOLAN: You get a sense that these guys are on a tragic journey — we announced it right from the pilot that they are not both going to make it. So it’s really a question of the arc for these characters and also the idea of friendship and sacrifice.

Reese, when we find him, is an extremist. In a sequence that we weren’t able to shoot because we couldn’t get permission, originally the pilot starts with Reese about to throw himself off the Manhattan Bridge. The city wouldn’t let us shoot it. They would let us shoot it on the bridge to Roosevelt Island, but that’s only about 20 feet off the water so we didn’t think we would get quite the same level of spectacle. So we weren’t able to shoot the beginning of the pilot the way it’s supposed to play out

When we find Reese, he’s in a very dark place, an assassin at the end of his rope. Finch gives him a reason to live, a new purpose. There’s great affection. This is really where the season started with the relationship between these two characters. When we get to the end, there are so many amazing characters that we found along the way and they all play a role in that finale. But it’s really that relationship — Finch, Reese, and the Machine but specifically Finch and Reese and their evolving friendship over the seasons. It’s probably the heart of the show, the essence of the show from the beginning. The sort of odd couple.

So we wanted to see Reese, as he says in the finale, he gets a chance to repay that great favor that Finch gave him a new lease on life. It’s a redemptive arc for Reese, the sacrifice at the end is him giving some of that back to Finch in the hopes that one of them could make it out alive…

DEADLINE : What about Shaw, is she the new Reese? There was a hint in the finale that she may take the mantle. 

NOLAN: I think that’s the suggestion at the end of the finale. As Finch says in the pilot, the numbers never stop coming. We assume that someone has to pick up that mantle. There’s no better candidate than Shaw. She’s capable and has a somewhat redemptive arc through this. I think that purpose and that relationship with Root as the Machine, to us we always imagined that someone would pick up the mantel and carry it forward. Shaw was always conceived of as that character.

DEADLINE: Let’s talk about the Machine. Was it important for you that it lived on?

PLAGEMAN: I do think it’s important. I think it’s important to understand that there is an artificial intelligence in the world that considers humanity. We talked about artificial intelligence quite a bit on the show and what could happen, will there be just one or will there be multiple artificial intelligences that proliferate. For now, at least in the ending of this show, as far as we’re aware there is only one. That is the one that Harold Finch originally encoded…

DEADLINE: The Episode 11 that Greg mentioned, was it envisioned as a potential spinoff?

NOLAN: Definitely not an attempt on our part to do a spinoff. If we were ever going to do a spinoff it would have been with the Control end of things and the relevant side of things which would have been great fun to take a look at three seasons ago. We didn’t want to do a spinoff. We’ve watched friends go through this where it’s like, the series is doing great, spin it off and then you wind up impoverishing both shows. So definitely not an attempt on our part to spin the show off. It was an attempt to answer a big question that’s always been there in terms of what happens to all the numbers that come up outside of New York City and to see that there is this master plan with the Machine in terms of the numbers along the way, everything adding up to something new and different.

Person of Interest Finale Finch2

They were also interviewed by IGN. The first question quoted is related to one of my questions above about the finale, and they also discussed what could have happened if the show was not ending:

Matt Fowler: In the finale, the Machine defeated Samaritan, after losing to it trillions of times in a simulated battle. Did she just have it within her all along to pull out the win in the end?

Nolan: I think a part of it was all that relentless training, in a sense. Finch and Root trying to scheme out how this would work but also running these simulations with the Machine in order to figure out how it could win in its most paired down form. So you’ve got this decommissioned Soviet satellite and these things were up in there in their most compact fighting form. Sort of like how armies used to march out and select one champion to represent them, and the fight would be decided with that champion and the rest of the army would abide by that outcome. But at this point, the armies have been decimated and destroyed and only the champions remain. The sparest algorithmic versions of these ASIs uploaded into the satellite like two strands of DNA having a kung fu battle. So kind of fun, but also kind of hard to visualize.

Plageman: Also, keeping in mind that Finch unleashed this virus that could hobble Samaritan enough to put the two ASIs on more equal footing.

Nolan: Both of them have been reduced to their respective essence, and in that form, the Machine was going to kick Samaritan’s ass.

Goldman: Samaritan ended up working as the ultimate foe for the Machine. Did you always see it as the end game and would have held off on this final battle for a couple more seasons if the show were continuing? Because you kind of ended up with the HR era and then the Samaritan era.

Nolan: I had imagined that in any version this would be the final season for Samaritan. And we had a blueprint we used for what could come next. If this was the ultimate big bad – like, what could we do afterward? And we had some pretty cool ideas. But certainly for a final adversary, Samaritan is a pretty great one…

Goldman: The great and bad thing about creating something people care about is you’re going to have to put up with guys like us asking, for years and years, “Will there be a follow-up to Person of Interest?” What’s your gut feeling? We live in an era with more revivals than ever. Do you think in some form, these characters could ever pop up again?

Nolan: Last year, it was 24, X-Files and Heroes. You’d be forgiven for waking up and checking your TV Guide thinking you’d traveled back in time 10 years. So you never say never. They’ve got our number! They can call us. We love these f**king characters. We love this world.

penny dreadful finale2

While we knew going into the season that it would be the last for Person of Interest, it was not announced until after the finale of Penny Dreadful aired that the show was not coming back. This was probably a good thing for those viewing Sunday night as I bet they were expecting to see Vanessa triumph in the end. For those like myself who watched it later, after seeing headlines of the shocking ending as well as the cancellation, Vanessa’s death was more predictable (although surprising that she had so little to do at the end). In a way it was also foreshadowed in the penultimate episode as both ended with rather disappointing surrenders by female characters who might have been expected to be stronger. Perhaps it was an homage to the common Victorian troupe of damsels in distress.

The final season also felt strangely constructed. Season two ended with the characters separated. I expected to see them reunited sooner, as opposed to waiting until late in the season, and then ending it all. It seemed like they were introducing Dr. Jekyll for a larger role in the future but couldn’t go very far with that. Other new characters were handled better, such as Dracula, Catriona Hartdegen, and Justine, even if I didn’t like how her character died. Actually the only character’s story line which I was really satisfied with this season was the Creature.

penny-dreadful-series-finale

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Showtime president David Nevins and series creator John Logan:

When did you first know this would be the final season?

Logan: It was midway through season two, about two years ago when I was envisioning season three. I knew at the end of season two that Vanessa Ives steps away from God and burns the crucifix and she’s left completely alone without the one thing that sustained her and the one source of strength she truly has — which is her faith. Since the show for me has always been about a woman grappling with God and faith, I thought the idea of her scratching her way back to God and finally achieving some some of apotheosis was the appropriate ending. As the season began to dance about in my head, I realized where it was going to have to go and have to end. I thought that was the right end and the graceful end for the character. I discussed it with Eva and then talked to David about where I felt the season was going.

Nevins: I spent a short amount of time trying to say, “Are you sure you want to do it? There’s all these other wonderful characters.” It became clear John was right and it needed Vanessa or it wasn’t smart to continue the show beyond Vanessa. I fairly quickly said yes. And then the question was how do we handle that information and position it? The traditional thing to do was announce this is the last season. It felt like that would give away the surprise and part of the pleasure of watching TV now is experiencing it for yourself and the emotions in an unspoiled, unmediated sort of way. The episode begins with not the usual main title and that signals something different is going on here and it ends with “The end.”

Many viewers felt Vanessa’s arc suggested she was doomed at the end of the first season. Do you think this is an example of one great performance shifting the focus of an ensemble show more than anticipated?

Logan: From a writer’s perspective, this was always a show about Vanessa Ives for me. That character was the spine of the show.

Nevins: This was not a change. It was clear from John’s perspective, the show was about Vanessa Ives’ story. I encouraged an ensemble a bit, but its spine and trunk was always Vanessa.

Penny Dreadful Billie Piper

They spoke at Entertainment Weekly about the fates of the major characters:

John, you called this the story of a woman’s journey to faith. Why could returning to her faith only happen for Vanessa as she died?
LOGAN:
Because Vanessa, like all characters that are interesting to me, is broken. She’s a cursed, dark creature, and she was never going to exist easily in Victorian society as a proper Victorian wife or matron or anything. There was always an exceptionality about her, most emphatically in the fact that she’d dwelt in the dark side, with both Dracula and the devil seeking her soul. The only peace she could possibly have was with God, and the way to commit to that was to give herself entirely to it. And it became a sacrifice that she had to enact for the good of mankind. It was a generous act that she did in dying and going to God, as well.

Opposite her experience, we’ve got the Creature [Rory Kinnear] who’s also choosing death over life on behalf of his son. Vanessa is religious. The Creature is not. Were their similar responses to death an intentional counterpoint?
LOGAN:
Of course. Those two characters do a pas de deux the entire series for me. I’m Irish, so it’s like different sides of my personality. Half the time I want to go to Mass; half the time I want to walk away.

The story around Lily [Billie Piper] has been one of my favorites this year.
LOGAN:
Yeah, me too.

That monologue about her daughter in episode 8 was just stunning. Can you take me through why it was so important that you saved that really human story for the end of the season?
LOGAN:
Happily. I chose to write about women in Victorian society — that’s the stealth thing this show is actually about. It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.

Penny Dreadful Finale Vanessa

Variety spoke with John Logan:

There are a lot of balls you’ve got in the air, a lot of storylines. Obviously you’ve had multiple story lines in other seasons, but this seemed like the most “Penny Dreadful” has ever had.

This is multiple stories on steroids. I think that’s fun. The series has gotten broader and broader every season and I think that’s correct. If it was still the same five people in a room in Victorian London, you’d want to kill yourself. I certainly didn’t want to write the same show year after year, with the central characters talking in the great room about evil. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have bigger themes, bigger stories.

Part of what helped me do that this season was having a lot of new characters. We’ve got Patti LuPone, who plays Dr. Seward, Dr. Jekyll, Keatenay, and Dr. Sweet, who’s involved in Vanessa’s storyline — all those new characters start thickening the broth, if you will. And by season three, I think we want a thick broth.

The different characters add different shadings, different notes on the scale, if you will. As do the different actors. When you see Wes Studi and Tim Dalton are fantastic together and there’s a chemistry there, seeing where the chemistry connects between the actors and the characters, is really rewarding.

And the important thing to me, as I planned the first three seasons of the show, was weaving back into the Dracula story. We did that to some degree in season one, with Mina Harker, Sir Malcolm’s daughter, and then we get back into it big time in season three. It’s fun, and challenging.

That was an unexpected reveal at the end of the first episode, but it does draw on one of the show’s themes, that these things are constants. These dangers, these demons, the issue the characters face on their moral journeys — they don’t just go away. You don’t solve them, because they’re eternal.

That’s exactly right. You look at Vanessa, who is obviously for me the beating heart of the series — the woman is tormented from without and within. From within, it’s part of a journey of faith, and losing her faith and that leaving her in a wasteland of an existence, until she tries to drag herself out of it. But also, from without, she was tormented by Satan last season, Dracula in the first season, and those things don’t go away. Your inner demons and outer demons are still there until you find finally face them in some way. I always wanted this season to be about Vanessa and Ethan facing their most difficult challenges. Ethan goes back home into the crucible of his past, his father, what made him a werewolf, why is the way he is. With Vanessa, it’s [an exploration of] the darkness around her.

The finale of Person of Interest, with scenes of chaos after the release of the Ice-9 virus,  reminded me of the ending last season of Mr. Robot with the release of their hack. A new trailer for the second season is above, showing that the FBI is after Elliot. The season has been extended from ten to twelve episodes, and there will be an after show entitled Hacking Robot.

The video below looks back at the first season: