Discovering Star Trek: Discovery

NOTE: Minor SPOILERS ahead for the first episode. You have been warned!

A few of my friends and I gathered with pizza and ice cream on Sunday evening to watch the premiere of the latest iteration of Star Trek: Discovery. We settled around the television excited as we waited…and waited. The football game on CBS ran long so the premiere was delayed. Why a football game delays broadcast television is easy to understand. Why said game delayed the launch of Discovery on the streaming service CBS: All Access still leaves me scratching my head.

I could probably spend this entire post griping about how much I hate the fact I have to pay for yet another streaming service to get my Trek fix but I will save you all my grief and just say KHAAAAN!

I began watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in the sixth grade. Thanks to Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise I was able to watch Trek through high school and into my naval service. In fact I got to see the premiere of Enterprise while deployed on the USS Enterprise! Needless to say, I grew into an adult with Trek as my guide and my friend. Until Sunday evening, it had been more than a decade since I had seen a new episode. I’ll admit, even with the All Access crap, I was a little excited. How would my perspective of the show differ than the sixth grade version of me? Would I catch all the subtle social commentary? Would it be profound?

The playback started and there were Klingons (they were speaking Klingon anyway). There was a really cool music theme recorded not with computer generated instruments but with a live orchestra! There were Vulcans and starships and the prime directive and phasers ! It was all those things I remembered about Star Trek (except for the albino Klingon). A female captain AND first officer?! And neither of them is white?! Talk about where no Trek has gone before!

It felt different, modern, new, Kelvin. Wait, the ‘Kelvin effect’ was done with a budget, this show has a budget? It must, it looks so amazing! (for those that don’t know, Kelvin is what Trek fans call the J.J. Abrams reboot films as they take place in an alternate “Kelvin” universe, “Prime” refers to all other iterations of Trek (original series, next gen etc.)).

As for social commentary, the premise behind the show is a war with the Klingons. T’Kuvma, a devote follower of Kahless, contrives a way to unite the 24 noble Klingon houses in a conflict against the Federation. He does this with the help of a mantra “Remain Klingon” as if the Federation were somehow polluting the Empire. That sounds familiar. Qo’nos first!

So I liked it, no question. There’s action, drama, conflict and a myriad of social issues taking place today for the writers to weave into a Trek narrative. It doesn’t feel like the Trek of the 1990’s, but I think that’s a good thing. There is a generation of kids and young adults who need to experience Star Trek in a way that is relevant to them. I sincerely hope Discovery can do that (it could do it even better on broadcast television, stupid All Access).

Star Trek has been in hiatus far too long and America needs it now more than ever. We need a shining example of what our future could be, a future where we can live in peace with one another (except for maybe with the Klingons…and the Romulans…the Borg… gee maybe the future’s not so peaceful after all…).

LLAP (Live Long And Prosper)

End Transmission

Take a Stand, Take a Knee

Prior to my enlistment in the Navy, I had a good sense of patriotism and the significance of the National Anthem. But as I took the oath to defend the United States with my life, suddenlythat theme meant a whole lot more to me. Even now when I hear the anthem I can’t help but swell with pride in what our nation has accomplished above all others.

I will be the first to admit I was a little turned off by Colin Kaepernick sitting out the national anthem last year. He did so not at the height of his career but when it was in decline and he had little to lose. He was also a 49er and as a dedicated fan of the Seattle Seahawks, I was already bias against him. But that was the extent of it. I didn’t actually object to him sitting down, I served our country to maintain his right to do so. I didn’t agree with his form of protest but I certainly wouldn’t condemn him for it. For his own reasons, he felt compelled to act in a way that he believed was right, and let me be clear, he was RIGHT to do so (even if he was a 49er).

So what does it say about our country when so many are now choosing to sit or kneel rather than stand? Is respect for the flag more important than demanding from our country everything that flag represents? Is standing up and paying honors to a symbol more important than living by what that symbol stands for?

Don’t be angry at those who take a stand by sitting down, I may soon be among them. Listen to their protests, their concerns, are they wrong? Well, ARE THEY? Be mad they are sitting down but don’t be mad at them for doing so, be mad at the reasons why. Use that anger to take a positive action, help them stand back up, not by shaming them but by doing something about the causes that compel them to protest. We have the power to change how we treat those whose skin color doesn’t match our own and how we enforce laws. We are all Americans and we all want to be wrapped equally in that blanket of freedom.

The flag of the United States doesn’t just represent our fallen heroes, it also represents what we aspire to be: a nation of liberty and justice for all. We’ve struggled with that promise and there are those among us who feel that promise hasn’t been kept. Maybe we all need to take a knee until real change is made and every American is treated equally regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. It is my hope that those who feel they aren’t represented in the red white and blue will one day soon be able to stand with pride when The Star-Spangled Banner is played.  It’s up to all of us to safeguard and uphold the rights and freedoms our fallen heroes fought and died to protect. Sometimes that means sitting down to take a stand.

USS Turner Joy

My husband and I recently visited the USS Turner Joy in Bremerton, WA. The Turner Joy is a Forrest Sherman class destroyer built in Seattle in 1957. Most notable about her time in service: she fired the first naval shot of the Vietnam War, and the last.

As a former United States sailor, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own time in service. The boat ‘smell’, the decking, the paint, sound-powered phones, battle lanterns, very little has changed from the days of the Turner Joy’s service to today.

Navy destroyers have been in the news a lot lately with the incidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain. Both of these ships were involved in collisions that resulted in loss of life. It amazed me how these mighty warships were shredded by the ships that hit them. While aboard the Turner Joy, I would discover why.

At one point as I toured part of the engine room, I noted a change in temperature. I was on the starboard side of the #2 engine room and as I moved aft into a narrow space, it felt warmer however, no equipment was running. I reached out to the outboard bulkhead and it was warm! The sun was out and I could feel significant heat radiating from the bulkhead! It didn’t take me long to find an information sheet about the hull and learn why. How much metal stood between my hand and the sunshine outside? 3/8’s of an inch! THREE-EIGHTHS of an INCH! It’s no wonder they call destroyers tin cans and it’s no wonder the collisions mentioned above were so devastating!

These ships were designed for speed and evasion so to keep them light they give them just enough of a hull to hold everything together. The downside to this design, they crumble if they hit something or something hits them. After touring the Turner Joy I gained a lot of respect for my shipmates serving aboard tin cans!

I highly recommend visiting the Turner Joy for those of you in and around the Seattle area. It’s a short walk from the ferry pier in Bremerton and almost 90% of the ship is accessible!





Trench Warfare

In order to give my works of speculative fiction a degree of authenticity, I find it important to research how things happened in the past. From there I can project how things might happen in the future. Currently I am working on the beginnings of a galactic war and I must ask what drives all these alien races to fight one another. To help answer that question I turned to our world’s first Great War: World War I.

Prior to my research, my knowledge of WWI could be distilled down to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and something called the ‘Treaty of Versailles’. I knew it led to WWII and that it took place in Europe but the particulars of the ‘Great War’ had been long since lost to me.

One of the first things to jump out at me as I began my research was the concept of trench warfare. I’d heard of trench warfare before and WWI saw this kind of tactic like never before. Unlike wars of the past that involved armies sweeping across vast landmasses, WWI saw the widespread use of the machine gun and suddenly all those soldiers could be mowed down from a considerable distance. The only way to avoid the massacre was to literally dig in below ground and out of sight of the deadly guns.  Both the allies and the central powers did just that in WWI often with little more than the length of a football field separating the two side’s trenches. The space in between was appropriately called ‘no-man’s land’ for anyone caught between the two sides would surely be killed.

This effectively turned WWI into a war of attrition, a stalemate.  With both sides entrenched and neither wanting to risk certain death by crossing to the other side, they sat and waited hoping the misery of the trench would drive the other side to surrender first.

It occurred to me how appropriately trench warfare is analogous to the current political climate in the United States. In 2017 we are engaging in trench warfare with each other. The trenches aren’t physical, they’re ideological. Instead of guns, we hurl words and protests at our ‘enemy’. Anyone who isn’t in our trench must be in the enemy trench. If you’re a republican but don’t support Trump, you’re in no man’s land. If you are progressive but don’t like the establishment of the Democratic Party, you’re in no-man’s land. But being caught in no-man’s land means certain doom so pick a trench because right now, there is no middle ground (at least that’s the current perception). It’s a war of attrition and one side will either win or both sides will lose horribly.

What did WWI teach us about trench warfare? It was stupid, a lot of people died for no reason and by the end of the war nothing was really gained by it. In the case of WWI, the central powers ultimately lost. While they had better trenches and better weapons, they lacked the necessary influx of supplies to sustain war indefinitely. The allies technically won the war but with so many dead and so little disputed territory changing hands, what was it all for? Everyone was broke by the war’s end and with so much focus on fighting, resources weren’t sent to the real threat that emerged; the Spanish flu which ended up killing more people globally than WWI!

What lessons can we learn then in our ideological trench war today? Does one side have to completely surrender to the other? Do we hold our line so firmly the entire country falls apart by the end?  Do we turn our ideological war into a physical war and shed more blood to test the constitution of this country? Or do we lay down are weapons and climb out of the trenches, see our ‘enemy’ as the neighbor they’ve always been? Trench warfare doesn’t work. No one truly wins in the end and if we continue on our current course, we will not have learned the lessons so many died to teach us.

The media, the President, even friends and family may tell us we have to pick a side and no matter what, we have to stay there. I say bullshit. I want to believe that most of us are actually in no-man’s land right now; that only those in a position of power and authority over us are truly engaged in the trench war. The difference between the soldiers of WWI and the American people today is that unlike the soldiers of the past, we have the power to get out of the trench and pull our leaders out with us.

“Okay Jen, how do you suggest we get out of the trenches?”

I think it starts with listening. We hear the words, how can we not? Both sides are shouting at the top of their lungs but are we truly listening? The truth is we may never agree on everything or maybe not on anything but somewhere along the road we stopped listening to the other side and they stopped listening to us. At some point we begin building our trenches and now we’re entrenched. But the idea is not to convince a Trump supporter that he is wrong or a liberal that she is naive; that’s just trying to drag one person out of one trench and into another. The idea is to hear the other side and truly empathize with why they feel the way they do. No man’s land really is the common ground between trenches. From common ground we can work on common goals. Only if we work together can we end our ideological trench standoff. We’re in this test of democracy together after all.

Hello world!

Greetings Earthlings and welcome to the epic blog of J.A. McLendon! Okay maybe it’s not epic yet but it will be as soon as I figure out how to use this WordPress interface! I intend to stand on my orbital platform (soap box as it were) and preach to you all on politics, toys, and the virtues of Star Trek and other things of a geeky and sci-fi nature. I’ll probably talk about a lot of other things too…probably. So stay tuned for further updates from my orbital platform!..or don’t, it’s your choice.