Syfy Needs Show Ideas? I Got ‘em

English: Syfy Logo

English: Syfy Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Syfy Channel is undergoing a change of direction and is going to try a new angle.  Science Fiction TV.  Who would have thunk it?  As the Hollywood Reporter notes:

Almost five years after a rebrand that abandoned the Sci-Fi moniker and enraged fans,

NBC Universal brass is aware that its attempt to lure a broader audience might have lost it some clout in the increasingly lucrative genre that shares its former name. Now Syfy President Dave Howe is trying to rectify the perception problem with changes in the executive ranks that will translate to new programming more familiar to its core audience

“We want to be the best science-fiction channel that we possibly can, and in some respects, that means going back to the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy that fans often say they feel we’ve exited,” Howe tells THR. “We’re going to occupy that space in a way we haven’t for the past few years.”

It’s about time.  I was despairing of seeing much of real science fiction on this channel.  So to help them produce a show that does not include ghost hunting, reality, wrestling, or a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, here is an idea I would like to pitch to the network big wigs:

 

The Pitch:  Space Pirates!

My son and I came up with this idea while waiting for pizza, so it didn’t take a lot of time to bounce this around.  I mean, we weren’t writing a novel; this is for TV.

Basic Concept:  This takes place about 150 years in the future.  The asteroid belt is a vast source of wealth in minerals to send to Earth.  The belt is settled by a variety of miners, failed miners, nonconformists, and various religious, ideological, and ethnic groups that live in all sorts of habitats from O’Neil Space Colonies to hollowed out asteroids.  They support themselves by trading minerals for supplies that they need from Earth.  Although they think of themselves as independent, Earth doesn’t recognize them as such.

Pilot:  Earth’s main space elevator is destroyed in a terrorist attack and a previously unknown belt terrorist group takes credit.  The UN agency responsible for trading with the belt enlists a fleet of space warships from the various national space navies to get revenge on the belt and take over the mining operations for Earth.  Even though the belt has no military to speak of, they hastily form a committee to prepare for the military attack from Earth and enlist mining ships and crew as privateers, offering a bounty for each destroyed or captured earth vessel and their crews, who they hope they can ransom back to Earth.

The Characters:  A roguish belt captain who disdains everything of Earth and loves the freedom that his ship gives him.  Think a Malcolm Reynolds type.  His antagonist is a young, newly minted skipper an American warship assigned to the UN fleet.  He is an earnest, all American duty-honor-country type who believes in what he’s doing, which is stopping terrorism.  Think Captain America.  They spend the first season in a cat and mouse game of attack-counterattack.

Subplots:  Yes, the terrorist attack on the space elevator is what else?  A false flag attack by “corporate interests” that don’t want to pay for the minerals they are buying from the belt, and need a reason to wipe out the belt culture so they can grab them instead of paying.

Story Arc:  I prefer stand alone episodes.  That’s the problem with TV today is that you can’t just sit down and watch an episode of a drama cold and know what’s going on.  But I envision one story arc for the first season. The two space captains begin to find clues that the attack on the space elevator was an inside job.  Over the course of the season they discover the conspiracy and realize that they are really on the same side.

Gimmicks:  There should be at least one space battle per episode of the submarine vs destroyer type or the aircraft carriers sending their planes out to destroy each other type.  Not to mention some good old fashioned firing broadsides at each other’s ship.  This will provide variety but at the same time will be familiar enough to be understandable. Of course, the primary weapon should be linear accelerators firing… cannon balls!  I tried to explain this concept to a friend of mine who found nothing remarkable about linear accelerators firing globes of iron as a kinetic energy weapon.  But the point is…Space Pirates!  With Space Cannonballs!

When not using their main drives to move around, the ships unfurl solar sails that both collect electricity and of course provide cheap low speed propulsion from solar radiation.  Again, sailing ships, it’s all about the Space Pirates.

So there you go Syfy.  One series idea for you, and I ask very little in return, merely the enjoyment of watching an entertaining science fiction TV show.

Oh and producer’s credits and a percentage of the gross.

 

 

 

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Better Than a Telescreen

The Guardian, as part of its ongoing program of weakening the West by revealing bit by bit the Snowden documents, released a new one a few weeks ago about a GCHQ program called Optic Nerve. GCHQ, Government Communications Headquarters, is the British equivalent of the NSA and because of the close relationship between the American and British Intelligence communities got caught in the Snowden web of stolen documents.  Optic Nerve was (or is?  Who knows?) a program for capturing video images from Yahoo video chats.

As The Guardian reports:

A model of the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham

A model of the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

The comparison that the paper immediately and obviously uses is the telescreen from Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s telescreens were basically TV’s that worked both ways; while you’re watching a show calling for all praise to the State (think Hardball), the TV is watching you back, checking to see if you’re rolling your eyes when Chris Matthews praises Obama or if you are in a rapturous state at the mention of his name.  The totalitarian implications of both the technology and the program are obvious.

So when I saw the story, why did I think, “Man that’s freakin’ cool?”

Well the technology is pretty neat.  And I can hardly blame an intelligence agency for wanting to know everything.  It’s only what any intelligence agency has every wanted, to be able to know absolutely everything.  The thing is, our technology is rapidly reaching the point where it’s possible to know, if not everything, than almost every communication that you make that has some sort of electronic component.

I can even see why GCHQ would be interested in screen capturing people’s video chats.  Imagine a situation in which a terrorist event in the UK has a shot of a suspect on closed circuit cameras.  Facial recognition software on the usual government databases turn up nothing.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have another source of pictures to scan through?  More than that, if you get a hit on a Yahoo image, that brings along quite a bit of other metadata associated with the Yahoo account being used.  That, my friends, is neat!

Low probability of success you say?  I would agree.  The odds are not great that you could check all legitimate government databases but then get a hit on a Yahoo video chat database, but who knows?  If it helps you solve a terrorist event, it would be worth it and all would be forgiven.

Low probability searching is becoming more and more worthwhile as the capacity for computer processing and data storage increases.  You only need a human to take a look at something if you actually get a hit on your searches. So that makes it more worthwhile to expand intelligence gathering into every nook and cranny on the off chance that you can prevent, or help solve, a terrorist event.

But that brings us back to telescreens and Orwell in general.  Do we really want to be observed to that extent that you literally are on someone’s video, phone, or internet presence at all times?  The Western nations are having that conversation right now, but the problem isn’t the intelligence programs, it’s the technology itself.  You may not like the NSA or GCHQ having this technology, but eventually, the technology will spread out so that everyone can have it.  Would having Putin’s Russia or the Red Chinese looking in everyone’s video chat be any better?  How about Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea?  There are real totalitarian regimes right now that would love to have this technology for nothing but nefarious purposes and eventually, they will be able to buy it or build it themselves.

In the Western countries we think we can reign in our intelligence services by passing a law or something, and we can.  I can see us returning to a pre-World War II political climate in which, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” But we can’t pass a law stopping the Russians or Iranians from doing the same thing.  Even if we legally denude the ability of agencies like NSA, CSE, or GCHQ to achieve some sort of total information dominance, we can’t stop the rest of the world that could care less about our concerns for privacy.  I think you can imagine the possibilities of foreign dictatorships using these technologies to blackmail and manipulate westerners.

Maybe I’m naive, but if these technologies have to exist, I would rather the NSA or GCHQ have them than the Russian FAPSI or China’s Technical Department of the Central Military Commission.  But we are not going to get a choice on that since the technologies exist now and will eventually be acquired and used by the baddest of the bad.  Even Edward Snowden may look back in nostalgia when only the Western intelligence agencies had these capabilities.

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The Lena Dunham Demographic

Lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live last night, imagine my surprise when Lena Dunham was highlighted as the guest host.  Dunham, really?  I thought to myself.  I was curious if the typical SNL viewer even knew who Lena Dunham was.  Star and head writer of the HBO series Girls, it’s hard to gauge how much pop culture cred she has.  Despite the phenomenon of buzz, of which this show has plenty, it is on HBO, which is a limited universe of viewers.  However ratings have gone up.  The show has improved in its current 3rd season from season 2’s average of 632,000 viewers to 1.1 million for season three.

Why is this important?  I have no idea, and that’s part of the fascination I suppose.  Lena Dunham and her show would normally have been something that would never have come to my attention.  She is a millennial writing a show about millennials for millennials.  As either a tail end baby boomer or post boomer, however you want to count it; I should have no interest in this group.  And I don’t.  That is the Pajama Boy generation.

But when Girls premiered in 2012, my universe of blogs that I read, that generally lean right, blew up about the show.  I could not figure out what the interest was from the right side of the aisle. So I set aside time to watch the first season.

My first observation, which apparently is the same as virtually everyone else’s is, what’s up with all the nudity?  Of course there has been so much written about the nudity on that show it’s pointless for me to rehash it (although that’s a tricky search string if you want to Google it), since I share some of the criticism of the show’s nudity.   But much of that criticism seems to be mean spirited.  As if the criticism is being used as a way to insult Lena Dunham on the sly. I mean, how often do you hear TV critics berate a show and its star because the show has too much nudity?  In fact, in a rather well publicized incident in January, during a panel discussion a TV critic made a comment critical of the amount of nudity on the show.  Of course TV critics are not complaining about the nudity of other premium cable shows, just this one, since Dunham is pudgy and covered with some fairly hideous back and arm tattoos.  When people constantly tell you that they hate seeing you nude, that’s gotta sting.

On last night’s SNL, the over the top nudity was mocked in one of the few funny skits of the episode.

My second and frankly my last observation on the show are the incredible self absorption and narcissism of the characters.  To me, virtually all of the characters are unlikable.  And honestly, I can’t tell if Dunham is writing the characters that way because she is mocking her generation, or if it’s because she is so inculcated into the introspection of her generation she can’t see what horrible human beings they appear to be on the screen.  Then again, to another millennial, these characters may seem perfectly normal.  So after watching the first season of the show, I could judge that I found the show interesting, but totally devoid of entertainment.  I was interested in why the characters were presented the way they were, and why lines were written a certain way, but I could care less about the characters.

The only way these horrible creatures could be redeemed would be if there was a mash up with some other show.  I would like see all of the Girls characters on The Walking Dead.  A one episode special in which they all suddenly had to deal with real survival issues rather than texting on their phones would give me the closure I crave.  None would survive the episode of course.  Now that’s entertainment!

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Putin Makes Obama Look Weak…Again

The Olympics had barely wrapped up and the wild dogs released back into Sochi when the Ukraine began a fracturing internal crisis that lead to Vladimir Putin seizing the Crimea back from Ukrainian control,  in a de facto, if not de jure annexation.

English: Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroeder

English: Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroeder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The American response?  Obama and Putin spoke on the phone and Obama expressed “grave concern.”  Take that Putin!

It’s pretty clear that Putin has taken the measure of Obama, found him wanting as a serious leader, and has decided he can ignore him in most matters.  After the Putin checkmate in Syria, I’m sure he feels he has free range to act in what he perceives are his interests worldwide.  But let’s not give Putin too much credit here, the US foreign policy juggernaut he faces are Obama and that blowhard John Kerry; a pair that would find themselves outfoxed at a high school model UN.

The US does have alternatives in dealing with Putin; it’s not a choice between craven surrender or total war.  Putin does want things, and has gotten things already that he hasn’t deserved.  Maybe some of those things should be taken from him.

One is membership in the G-8.  The G-7 was a group of the largest economies on that planet.  And Russia wanted in to showcase that it too, was a big power.  Maybe Russia should be kicked out.  It’s something that would make Putin furious and take from him something he really wanted.

Another is to withdraw from the New START treaty.  That’s the current treaty governing the reduction of US and Russian nuclear forces.  Of course the problem with this is that START is something that Obama probably wanted more than Putin does.  But because Obama wants it so much, it would send a message on how serious Obama is on Russia’s intervention.  Of course, for that very reason, START would never be on the table.  Obama just isn’t that serious.

Wow, I just wrote something profound!  But that’s the problem, and one of the reasons among many that Putin feels free to walk over the international community and particularly President Obama.

Because Obama just isn’t that serious.

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What Liberals Don’t Get About Conservatives

What liberals don’t get about conservatives is basically everything.  This occurred to me this weekend while chatting on the political web forums.  Someone posted a news story of a crazed Republican School Board member going into a strange rant on 9/11, cryptanalysis, and George Bush.  Anyone viewing the video would be hard pressed not to draw the conclusion that the woman is undergoing a breakdown and probably needs some sort of mental health counseling.

Unless of course you’re a liberal who views that as typical right-wing behavior.

This could be dismissed as a comment of a troll, of which there are plenty on the internet, but I had the impression that the person was more or less sincere in viewing people on the right as crazed and irrational.  And there could well be a more or less scientific reason for this.

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who has written the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. The book tries to show how morality is different depending on your political ideology. Reading a review of the book at a law blog, I came across this point:

One other point that I find really interesting and important about Haidt’s work is his findings on the ability of different groups to empathize across these ideological divides. So in his book (p. 287) Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.

This struck me since it matches up pretty well with my own anecdotal experiences.  Conservatives get where Liberals are coming from, but Liberals just don’t get where Conservatives are coming from.  In the US, we live in liberal-land. The educational system is run by liberals, TV & Movies are made and produced by liberals, and most importantly, all of the major news media, either Newspapers, magazines, or TV news, are run by liberals (liberals can bleat, “but what about Fox?”- But that just shows Fox is an outlier). So I’m constantly, surrounded by the worldview of liberals. For me to take a test or pass as a liberal would be ridiculously easy. I could go to a Netroots Nation, Think Progress convention or meeting and easily pass for one of them. I know your buzzwords and prejudices. As Patton said, (and I paraphrase) “You liberal bastards, I read your book!”

All things being equal, knowing nothing of politics, people should tend to be liberal. Of course the caveat to that is all things are not equal, but you can see the power of liberal institutions to set the agenda. That’s why, in an attempt to turn the conversation away from Obamacare, the administration started talking about about income inequality,  The MSM dutifully followed along because being liberal institutions, they would rather talk about income inequality than Obamacare too. We really should be talking about economic growth and job creation but that’s not an issue that can help the administration or that they have any real ideas about.  But because we all live in liberal land, liberals never have to think about their ideology or challenge any of their premises, which is something that conservatives have to do all the time because they are constantly getting push back on their premises.

As if to double down on Haidt’s ideas, last week The Nation ran an article called, Why the Curious Right Wing Silence on Michael Sam? Some passages are well worth highlighting:

Yes, the crazies in Westboro Baptist Church and some of the more reptilian swamps of the right-wing blogosphere have let loose with the homophobia, but the mainstream has been silent. It is not just Fox. Doesn’t National Review or The Weekly Standard have anything interesting, or even uninteresting, to say about any of this? Nothing? Really?

The New Republic’s Cohn even put out a plaintive tweet asking people on the right, “What do conservatives & Republicans think about a gay player in the NFL? Honest question, hoping for positive answers.” He did receive a curt tweet or two in response, mostly of the, “I don’t care as long as he can play football” variety.

In other words, the left cannot accept that in political terms, this is mostly a non story on the right.  For them, this is HUGE!  The answer is too simple for the Left to accept. For them, identity politics trumps everything. It’s why they can’t accept opposition to Obama’s policies as being anything other than closeted racism. When the most important thing about President Obama is his race, how else could opposition to his economic, social or foreign policies be interpolated as anything other than racism?

On the one hand, it’s kind of amusing that the Left is so clueless on figuring out the Right that even the simplest explanations elude them.  But on the other hand, I really wish they understood what I was trying to say.  When their default to anything I say is along the lines of a mentally ill school board member, it shows how large the gulf is between us.

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Lilyhammer 2: This Time (Just like season 1) It’s Personal

With surprisingly little fanfare, Netflix dropped the new season of Lilyhammer into the my Netflix queue, giving me a difficult choice on how to prioritize my viewing considering the 190 plus other shows waiting for my attention.  I had reviewed the first season here and with season one I was left a bit unsure how I felt about the show. I ultimately decided to go ahead and power through it and if I hated it, just drop it out of season two.

Well I didn’t hate it.                 

In fact I loved it.  There was a major jump in quality, story, and comedy from season one to season two.  Part of that is that season one spent so much time putting all of the pieces in place that it distracted a bit from the story. Also, as an American viewer, I centered on the sole American character, Frank Tagliano, aka Giovanni “Johnny” Hendrickson, as played by Steven Van Zandt. But after a season, the Norwegian characters are coming into their own, particularly Torgier, Frank/Johnny’s business partner, second in command, and general idiot. Johnny and Torgier’s relationship evolves quite a bit from a simple business relationship to a fairly loyal friendship.  Torgier makes some huge errors along the way which jeopardize Johnny’s various businesses, but Johnny can’t seem get too angry with him.

As season two opens, Johnny’s capture of the Lillehammer criminal underworld (such as it is) is nearly complete.  He’s welded the tools of extortion and blackmail to such an effect that he’s got much of the town owing him a favor. Although his relationship with Sigrid is over, they have a cordial relationship and Johnny is stepping  up to do his part as dad to his infant twins, as long as it doesn’t interfere with time at the club and “business.”

I don’t want to really give anything away for season two, however it involves English hooligans, daycare, a Moose and a murder, a bank robbery by multiple Justin Beibers that put Johnny’s real identity at risk, a gay African cook from the refugee center, a Khat addiction, another murder, a cult, an engagement, reindeer games, and finally a fairly satisfying season finale that takes place back in New York, which pits Johnny’s new Norwegian mafia against the New York mob.  In terms of a season wrap up, that was probably one of the better season finale’s I’ve seen.  Too many times I’ve found myself disappointed with season finales.  This one hit all the major points I look for.

My only complaint is that the storyline with the new sheriff seems to be incomplete.  After blowing into town and taking the job of new sheriff, she unaccountably sleeps with Torgier; a man with at best average looks and no game.  She then introduces herself to Johnny by pulling him over and smashing out a taillight, in true southern sheriff fashion.  Although Johnny hands her a tin victory to try to get her off his back, it felt as if that storyline just stopped with no resolution.

Hopefully there will be some resolution in season 3.  Yes there will be one.  Netflix has a far better grasp on how many people are watching their shows than a regular Nielsen dependent network does, so there must be many more people who agree with me.

Those Interracial Right Wingers

Part two of the interracial Cheerios commercial was released for the Super Bowl, and of course, it’s adorable.

Of course, this was seen as yet another opportunity to pointlessly race-bait by MSNBC, which released this now deleted tweet.

Eventually, MSNBC apologized which is a minor victory in itself.

But they didn’t apologize before they had pissed off a lot of interracial conservative families, prompting this twitter hashtag # MyRightWingBiracialFamilyThat brings us round to the Volokh Conspiracy law blog, now run by the Washington Post.  In the post, New Evidence on the political views of mixed-race adopted and step-families, they break down the data on mixed race families using the GSS data, one of the largest social science surveys on the US population.  In fact some bloggers do nothing but mine the GSS data for interesting tidbits, so just about any sort of social science query on Americans can be teased out if you have patience and a familiarity with statistical methods.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.  The gist is that there is virtually no statistical difference between liberal and conservative mixed race families.

“Thus, there is no evidence in the GSS data that Republican, conservative, or conservative Republicans who were living with step-children or adopted children were less likely to live in mixed-race households than Democrats, liberals, liberal Democrats, or moderate Democrats in adopted or step-families.  Indeed, in each instance the point estimates for living in a mixed-race household were insignificantly higher for the right side of the spectrum than for the left side.

This is not really a surprise, unless of course you work at MSNBC.

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