Yes We Can

In the 24th century there is no poverty on Earth, everyone has the healthcare they need and all the education they could ever want. The acquisition of wealth is no longer a driving force for mankind. Instead humans work to better themselves through knowledge and the exploration of human potential. At least that was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.

Last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, a post from a friend I haven’t seen since elementary school popped out. This guy tends to rant when he posts and where politics are concerned, he picks on everyone so while I don’t usually agree with everything he says, I like to look for the common ground. This particular post started out with opinions I don’t believe are supported by facts saying the President doesn’t care what people say about him (I’d argue that’s about the only thing he cares about!). He goes on to say that liberals want free stuff and to be lazy, that America is a dying nation full of stupid people, and that we will never have things like universal healthcare, fair wages, and an affordable education.

Usually by this point, I’ve scrolled on as I generally don’t like reading all that negativity but for some reason, his words gave me pause. In my mind I went back to the 1700s, to colonial America. If Facebook were a thing back then I’d imagine his post would read something like, America will always be subject to British rule, we will never have taxation with representation, and freedom is a pipedream. If you were to ask a slave before the civil war about freedom, he’d tell you it will never happen. If you asked a woman during the revolution about going to college or starting her own business, she’d no doubt laugh at you. But slavery in this country was abolished and opportunities for women have expanded. Have we reached the finish line? Hell no but we’re a heck of a lot closer than when we started.

I believe we can have things like fair wages, affordable education and universal healthcare. I think those things in particular would make our country not only great but strong. A healthy, well educated people capable of earning a living without help doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. I realize it won’t happen overnight but to say it will never happen is grossly shortsighted in my opinion.

We the people get to decide what is important and where to place our priorities. We tell our elected officials what we want and if they can’t make it happen, we get to elect ones that can. It is folly to think we are incapable of moving forward. Just look at how far we’ve already come. I’m not convinced the future Gene Roddenberry imagines for the 24th century will ever become a reality, I think elements of human nature can’t be reconciled by then. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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Sorry, not sorry

I have many personal heroes; unfortunately most of them live in the realms of books, movies, and television. It’s no secret I was a huge Star Trek fan growing up and Jean-Luc Picard taught me so much about integrity and standing up for the truth even when the consequences could be devastating.

I remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fifth season episode “The First Duty” and being disappointed at how long it took Wesley to admit he and his team lied about the circumstances surrounding a fellow cadet’s death. For those who aren’t familiar with this episode, Cadet Wesley Crusher and his academy flight squadron were engaging in a flight maneuver strictly banned by the institution. If they successfully pulled off this maneuver they would be lauded as heroes by their fellow trainees. Unfortunately for Wesley and his squadron, during practice something went wrong and his friend was killed as a result. His team tried to cover it up but as the saying goes, the truth will out. Picard invites Wesley to his ready room where he explains “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth!”

As I’ve grown and garnered more life experience, I can sympathize with young Cadet Crusher more than I did as a teenager. While I think the death of his friend should have been more than sufficient circumstances to compel him to tell the truth from the start, I can understand how remaining loyal to his squadron commander and his friends, lying to protect them as it were, could create a difficult choice. In the end Wesley does the right thing to honor his friend who died. He tells the truth and willingly faces the consequences. He owned his mistake.

While I can’t say this episode alone taught me this lesson, it certainly reinforced concepts I had learned growing up. There have been times I’ve made mistakes or taken a shortcut for the sake of expediency. Most of the time those situations worked out but on the occasion they didn’t, I didn’t lie. I owned my failures and faced the consequences. I’ve learned that when you own up to your mistakes, admit wrong doing and make the effort to correct them, the disappointment by others is balanced by a level of respect for making it right.

Lately I’ve seen an unfortunate trend in American culture when a wrong is committed. The offending individual is quick to place blame elsewhere, often at the feet of the person they just victimized! Our instinct is one of self-preservation and when someone is caught doing something wrong, whether embarrassed, entitled, or ignorant the offender generally refused to own up.

You say something you shouldn’t and it hurts someone. Do you deny you said it? Downplay and dismiss the context in which it was said? Tell the person you hurt they are too sensitive and to get over it? Or do you own it and apologize? Would it really be so bad to just admit you made a mistake and apologize for it?

What happens to a society when the people chosen to lead said society are incapable of owning their mistakes? When our leaders are unwilling and unable to say “I’m sorry,” can we really expect the rest of the country to do the right thing when they’ve done something wrong? Why is admitting you’ve made a mistake perceived as weakness? We all make mistakes; every single one of us is flawed and prone to error. A quick apology can defuse a situation but denying wrong doing only exacerbates the issue turning a minor offense into a major ordeal.

I am grateful for Picard and other fictional heroes who have taught me so well. I’ll stick with them instead of the lessons many current real life leaders would have me learn instead.

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Waiting for Discovery

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I have been tuning in every week since the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery eagerly anticipating the next installment of the latest iteration of my favorite sci-fi series. I won’t lie, I’ve usually been left disappointed on some level after each episode. That’s not to say I don’t like the series, I do like it a lot but after every episode I felt a little unsatisfied with the progression of the story.

The pilot episode set up a major conflict with the Klingons. While aspects of this set up are a little frustrating I can totally buy into it as part of the history of Trek and the story they want to tell. War makes for great and tragic dramatic story telling and some of Deep Space Nine’s best episodes were during the Dominion War.

As I began hearing about the premise of Discovery before it was released, I imagined a ship of science changing its focus as it found itself in the middle of the Klingon conflict. Kind and gentle Starfleet officers would have to learn a more militaristic lifestyle and that would create a great deal of internal conflict with the primary characters of the show. I haven’t really seen anything like that with the crew of Discovery. Most of them seemed kind of shady from the start!

As for external conflict, I imagined the Klingons would press the Federation with numerous engagements, seizing world after world until the Federation had no choice but to dig deep and stand up to them. We really haven’t seen that either. Since the pilot we’re seen one space battle, the opening of episode 8 ‘Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum’ where Discovery swoops in to try and rescue a fellow Starfleet ship (they fail). The only conflict involving a strategic world was episode 4 with the awesome title ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares not for the Lamb’s Cry’ where a dilethium mine colony is about to be overrun unless Discovery can get there in time.

Instead we have a show where there is a large focus on a new way to travel through space. We know this form of space travel will inevitably fail because this is a prequel series and in the twenty-fourth century they still use the tried and true warp engine. We have a small story arc with Harry Mudd, a character who made an appearance in the original series. This had me excited at first as I was hoping for some kind of anti-hero; a character who doesn’t play by the rules but still has some kind of moral backbone. With the shadiness of Captain Lorca, I guess there wasn’t much choice but to make Mudd a full on villain.

So far the show talks a lot about war, the cost of war, and how they must win the war. While Discovery has had a few run-ins with the Klingons, most of the time the show just tells us they’ve done a lot rather than show us the action. The primary focus is Burnham’s character arc and redemption journey. This would be great if she weren’t hampered by years of Vulcan training on the suppression of emotion. She comes across as cold which in my opinion doesn’t work very well in your principal lead.

While the content of the show may leave me with something to be desired, the production quality is nothing less than spectacular. I absolutely love the musical themes and I wish they’d release the soundtrack. Visually the show is stunning and it’s easy to believe the world they’ve created. While it’s not the Star Trek of old, it is very much in line with the reboot “Kelvin” universe and utilizes the best of what’s available in current cinematic tools. It may not have the feel of Star Trek but it does make for great science fiction.

After every episode I feel like I’m still waiting, waiting to see where they go and disappointed they haven’t made more progress in getting there. At least that was the case until I saw the mid-season finale. All of a sudden everything comes to a head and it looks like everything gets wrapped up in a nice package. Discovery has a plan to unlock the secrets of the Klingon cloaking device and mid-execution of said plan, the security chief suffers an episode of PTSD! Burnham fights the Klingons, Discovery fights the Klingon ship, the spore drive is put to the test! We went from zero to warp 9 in a single episode! That too was not very satisfying as there are still at least six episodes remaining in season one. It’s possible this wrap up is just an illusion or the show could be taking a new direction. The latest episode does end on a cliffhanger so I guess I’ll have to wait until January to find out.

Looks like I’m still waiting.

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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)

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