Woman in Motion

The title of the documentary about Nichelle Nichols,

Woman in Motion (2021)

Is also the name of the company she formed to work with NASA on women and minority recruitment back in the 70’s. This fan of Star Trek never took the time to find out why Nichelle didn’t do a lot more film and TV work than she did following her time on Star Trek. What she did was recruit the largest group of astronauts that NASA had ever trained up to that point, and she successfully saw the astronaut corps integrated for the first time. The first women and minorities in space were people that she convinced to apply to NASA. That was Nichelle’s impact on the future of manned space travel.

It was a little depressing to witness the progression of Alzheimer’s that was visible in the documentary. There were three distinct sets of video recordings that were sampled and included in the footage for the documentary. Two from previous short films and/or family video about her and a final video shoot made just for the documentary. It was clear that she was having some difficulty speaking towards the end of her life. The kinds of problems that young Nichelle and even older Nichelle did not have.

This made the way they ended the documentary that much more touching.

Nichelle Nichols – Fly Me to the Moon – 2016

Whatever was affecting her speech centers was not affecting her singing at all. Her rendition of this song brought me to tears. I couldn’t escape the image of Tommy Lee Jones’ character lying stranded on the moon in his spacesuit as the very same song played over the final scenes of Space Cowboys.

I’ll never forget meeting her at that convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma and getting the artwork that still hangs in my daughter’s bedroom signed by her. Hers is still the first memory I have of Star Trek. As much as she hated saying that line, that’s what I hear. “Hailing frequencies open, Captain.”

The world is a poorer place without you Nichelle.

All I can do is think of Nichelle Nichols as a force of nature unto herself.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Star Trek: Afterlife

News of its death had not been exaggerated.

One of my earliest memories is of a black lady in a red miniskirt, a beehive hairdo and what I would now think of as a Bluetooth headset hanging out of her ear. There were flashing lights on the communication boards behind her and she utters the line “Hailing frequencies open, sir” then the picture cuts to a man in a mustard colored shirt in a chair. I couldn’t explain the show to my mother, I also remember that. I was mad when they took it off the air and I tried to describe to my Mom about the alien with the pointy ears and the phasers and the bright red surfaces all over the bridge. The salt monster that had terrified me a few years previously. She didn’t remember the show although I got a hug for the disappointment of not seeing my show that day.

When I came home from school one day in 1977 and found my show in reruns for the first time, I was ecstatic. I remember dragging Mom into the den to watch with me. “It was Star Trek. See? I told you Mom.” I rewatched all but two episodes in reruns over the subsequent years as I watched the show after school with my brothers and sisters who would have rather been watching anything else.

I took my first date to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its premiere weekend. I was stoked. I don’t think my date was because I never saw her again after that. The Motionless Picture (as the fans dubbed it almost immediately) wasn’t like original Star Trek but it was nice to see the characters again. I had no idea that what I saw onscreen was originally intended to be a second television series pilot that they punted into a movie instead. That knowledge came later with my introduction to the Wife and fandom at large, but I could feel Gene Roddenberry’s influence in every bit of it. The subtle trekkiness of it. It was there under the different costumes and muted bridge colors.

I went to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan by myself the first time. I thought it was so good that I dragged my friends with me to watch it a second time. I don’t think most people today would understand what that meant to me back then in 1982. I had never spent money to watch the same movie twice before, much less 27 times to see Star Wars over and over again like some of my friends in fandom had done. This was an action film that was also a Star Trek movie, and I loved it. It wasn’t quite as distinctively Trek as the first movie. Kirk’s son denounces Starfleet as just another military organization bent on perverting their science, er, their ridiculous life-generating magic bomb into a weapon.

If you ignored the embarrassing technobabble about the science it was a great movie that expanded on one of the best episodes of the series. If you had been a fan of the show for as long as I had been by that point, the fast and loose nature of some of the science in the show was just one of the things that you learned to suspend disbelief about. After all, you can’t enjoy the show if you are busy picking it apart while you are watching it. Spock’s death scene in Wrath of Khan still makes me cry decades later even knowing they bring him back in the next movie.

On The Media – I’m Brooke Gladstone and I Am a Trekker – August 11, 2021

I can say what Brook won’t in that episode of On The Media. I was a Trekkie, not a Trekker. I used to say that it was a distinction without a difference Trekker vs. Trekkie but I’m not so certain this is true any more. The Wife and I fell in love over a box of Star Trek (and Superman!) comic books. She revealed that she was much more of a fan than I had ever been, having ordered from Roddenberry’s groundbreaking marketing arm Lincoln Enterprises pretty much as soon as it was announced. She walked around with a golden Enterprise necklace the way some people walk around with a golden cross or a St. Christopher’s medal. She had also been on the official Star Trek mailing list and attended several conventions before we even met. She could win trivia contests about the show and I could not.

I turned in my fandom pin when I met the Wife and the cadre of fans that she brought me in contact with. For example, I can’t be a true fan (the sensitive kind that wants to be called a Trekker and not a Trekkie) because I didn’t know these three characters were all played by the same actress, Diana Muldaur. I have no idea why I’d never made this connection; or why, if one of the fans I lead as Captain of a local Star Trek club alerted me to this fact, I still don’t remember that they were all the same person to this day. Trivia is a thing that I’ve never found important enough to remember, thereby earning its label of trivia. The fact of this doesn’t keep me from losing when we play trivial pursuit.

The Wife and I went to see Star Trek III: The Search For Spock together as well as every Star Trek movie after that one. Every Star Trek movie until they stopped being Star Trek movies in 2009.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation aired I began to notice the change. In movies it is easy to plot a simple story and hand-wave your way through the deeper questions of social order and the fabric of society. In a television series that has to produce (at the time) more than twenty one-hour shows each and every year, the show has to rely on the actors who appear on the show to invest more of themselves into the characters than is asked of the average movie actor. This is also true of the writers who have to produce the scripts that create the bones of the social interactions that the actors lend themselves to. It is a herculean task to create a television show even now with computer effects, short seasons and padded budgets. Back in the day when Star Trek aired, 1967-69, it was nearly an impossibility and had never been done that way for television until Desi Arnaz made it the television standard.

Speculative fiction like Star Trek is meaningless unless it reflects facets of the world outside, and the world outside the view of the television cameras had changed quite a bit since the original series had been on the air. The Vietnam war had been raging outside the camera’s range back in 1960’s America and the Cold War had dominated the lives of everyone living on the planet since the 1950’s. We were all going to die in the the thermonuclear fallout from World War III, that was the world that Star Trek was born into.

Star Trek was a breath of fresh air in that climate with it’s portrayal of a bright future where we could all get along. When The Next Generation (TNG) hit television screens we were living in that future. The predicted nuclear wars hadn’t occurred and the future was different than we expected. It wasn’t bright and it wasn’t going to get bright any time soon. The destruction of world civilization had been delayed a few generations but it was still a possibility that we all worried about, even if it wasn’t nuclear holocaust and the USSR that dominated our nightmares anymore. TNG had to be different from the future that Gene had created for his original Star Trek thirty years previously.

TNG was more militaristic for starters. The militarism was still subtle, but it was there all the same. The science was weaker, too. Star Trek made science shortcuts for reasons of storytelling and cost cutting. You can’t tell a story about characters if those characters don’t survive the journey from one planet to the next, so you introduce warp drive to shorten transit times into something more like a sea voyage. You introduce transporter tech so that you don’t have to film separate scenes of shuttles taking off and landing on each planet you visit (just don’t think about dying each time you get into the transporter only to be reborn on the planet surface) we can print food now with fabricators so the replicators in Star Trek aren’t even that much of a stretch anymore. Your flip phone that you used to love did the flip thing that it did precisely because Kirk did the flip thing with his communicator in 1967.

There were goofy stories based on the goofy tech introduced to tell the stories in the first place, but TNG made whole seasons of goofy stories about goofy science and goofy tech a thing. Which was fine, if it wasn’t a little much in the way of content to consume.

Then there was Deep Space Nine. I liked DS9 but I liked Babylon 5 more, which was interesting because the theme of a remote station on the edge of known space was a central story point that seemed to be shared between the two of them? Well, I’m sure J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t care much anymore. He got to make his show with the money that wasn’t mentioned in the settlement between him and Paramount. DS9 was better than TNG just as Babylon 5 was better than DS9. They were more real and dealt with more real subjects and didn’t seem to have so many goofy tech stories in their repertoire.

After that was Voyager and Paramount’s first betrayal of Star Trek fandom. I wanted to watch the show but wasn’t allowed to because Paramount wanted the fans to carry their UPN broadcast networks on their backs. I wasn’t having any of that. Then there was Enterprise and Nemesis:

…and I realized that there was speculative fiction that I liked and speculative fiction that I distinctly didn’t like. I probably should have thanked Paramount for the revelation that I could hate some kinds of fiction, even fiction offered under the guise of being Star Trek. I would thank them, but they weren’t done ruining Star Trek for me yet:

The Abramanations were definitively NOT Star Trek. This assessment goes far and beyond not liking story points or characterizations in these movies. I mean; red matter was an impossibility, a stupid impossibility just as Khan’s magic healing blood was a stupid impossibility in Into Darkness (Another aptly named film) There were stupid action sequences and stupid humor sequences. Too much stupid to ever be able to talk to other fans about the stupid without my having an aneurism suppressing the desire to throttle said fans as they praised the stupid; and so, I declared Star Trek dead because of those two films. But it wasn’t up to me, was it? I’m not the rights holder.

I signed up for Paramount+ recently. I signed up because I wanted to watch Picard and Woman in Motion. (I still need to watch that, now that I think about it. We miss you already Nichelle) I like the actors in Picard and I like the characters that they are reprising in the series; so I watched it, and it was better than I had expected it would be. It was so much better than I expected that I talked the Wife into watching it. She also liked it. Could it have been better? Come on, it always could be better. It was good for what it was, a tribute to the shows and characters that have come and gone in Star Trek history. Was it really Star Trek? I think you could say it was. TNG Star Trek if not classic Star Trek.

(Et in Arcadia Ego one and two. The Eclogues)

I would have preferred if they had ended it in season one, but they made season two; and after finishing watching season two I had to say it was also worth watching. I won’t hold my breath for season three but I will probably watch that too despite reservations.

However, Paramount+ kept showing me ads for Discovery and Strange New Worlds at the beginning of each episode of Picard. After I had watched all of Picard that there was the watch, I decided I might try Strange New Worlds. It was, after all, about Captain Pike, Kirk’s predecessor as captain of the Enterprise. Unlike the show, Enterprise, which was not part of Star Trek canon in even the slightest sense (there was no warp capable ship called Enterprise before the one mentioned in the original Star Trek) Captain Pike had been established as being part of the Star Trek universe from the very beginning. Even before the beginning of the show itself since it represents the premiere of the show that could have been but wasn’t (See The Cage for those who aren’t Trek nerds) so I started the first episode and hit my first snag.

Pike had appeared in Discovery before Paramount had decided to create Strange New Worlds. Was I willing to try to suspend disbelief for two seasons of a show that I already knew was bad? I mean, I had panned Discovery claiming worlds with the Federation flag in advertising a few years ago, could I watch two seasons of the show knowing that they were probably going to do horrible things to my beloved Star Trek? I’d survived the Abramanations, I thought to myself. Surely I can survive two seasons of Discovery.

Oh, how wrong I was. It started with the first episode of the series. The ship, Discovery, travels on magic mushrooms. No, I am not kidding when I say that. They are mushrooms and they are magical; ergo magic mushrooms. Magic mushrooms, spore trails through sub-space, or whatever technobabble you want to make up. Same fucking difference. Might as well chew a fungus and go their in your dreams. Your dreams will be better, I can promise you this.

I made it to the end of season one. I don’t know how. The story arc itself might have been interesting enough to hold my attention if only EVERY SINGLE THING about the show didn’t pop me right out of the ability to suspend disbelief with an audible WTF!?! Giant tardigrades. Microscopic critters that could eat you whole. The entire saucer section of the ship, when they start up the magic mushroom drive, spins. There are people on those parts of the ship, and it spins like a gyroscope. Even in the Star Trek universe there ain’t inertial dampeners strong enough to negate those forces, so how does the crew survive? They never even address it.

When Pike popped onto the ship at the end of season one, I knew that I could not watch season two and put him in with the crew of Discovery and their magic mushroom driven atrocity. So I stopped watching and haven’t been back.

I wouldn’t even be writing about this now if William Shatner hadn’t called out the current crop of Trek wannabes for not being Star Trek. That got their attention. William Shatner says that our Trek isn’t Trek enough? Where does he come off saying that? They offer up Gene Roddenberry’s panning of Star Trek V, as if that is proof that Bill Shatner doesn’t know what he is talking about.

On June 3, 1987, Roddenberry wrote a memo to Shatner expressing his distaste for the story. “Bill, as you undoubtedly know, I expressed to Harve Bennett at lunch last Monday my deep disappointment in the proposed Star Trek V film story,” Roddenberry wrote. “I simply cannot support a story which has our intelligent and insightful crew mesmerized by a 23rd Century religious charlatan.”

Roddenberry went on to point out that Shatner had previously agreed to recognize using religion in the script, which Roddenberry felt was unsuitable for the post-religious world he had created in TOS. The memo continued: “I had also thought that we had a clear understanding, man to man, that I would be consulted before any story went to screenplay.”

Roddenberry was so upset by the narrative Shatner had proposed that he also wrote similar letters to Bennett (who ignored him and appears in a cameo role in the final cut), his lawyer Leonard Maizlish, and head of the studio Frank Mancuso. In fact, Roddenberry was so incensed by the narrative direction Shatner had chosen, that he also wrote to sci-fi literary legends Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke to enlist their help in discouraging the studio from making the film. Both authors sent letters agreeing with Roddenberry’s position: Star Trek V “wasn’t Star Trek.”

movieweb.com

You know what? Gene was right. Spock had no brother, ergo Star Trek V couldn’t have been canon and probably shouldn’t be considered Star Trek. So what? Citing authority about Shatner’s work has no bearing on what that same authority might say about your work, your favorite new shiny thing that you love so much.

Bill happens to be right, at least when it comes to Discovery. That show is a joke and the actors involved, while very talented and dedicated, should have insisted on there being science advisors on the show during filming and during the writing process. Paramount should have cared enough about their property, Star Trek, so as to not dilute it with the crap that they’ve made under the Star Trek mantle since Gene’s death. I don’t care what Gene’s son thinks about the shows, either. Gene Roddenberry, the great bird of the galaxy himself, laid it all out in the Star Trek bible.

I’m a little unclear about technological devices of the future.
Can we invent anything which sounds reasonable?

Simply think of something logical, with some kind of science
or projected-science basis. Generally best are projections
of things we have now or which science is beginning to
build now. For example, in the pilot we had a hospital bed
which continually monitored all the key bodily functions,
and in fact some advanced hospitals today are already doing
part of this and working on further improvements.

Star Trek Writers Guide

Magic mushroom drives do not meet that standard. Discovery is not Star Trek just as the 2009 movie and Into Darkness are not Star Trek because the crap they came up with to explain their plot points doesn’t make fucking sense. I rest my case.

In the meantime I will say this. I was a Trekkie. I might still call myself a Trekkie if that means I can isolate myself from the Trekkers that think that magic mushroom drives, magic healing blood and red matter are things they want to be mystified by; otherwise Star Trek is even deader in my estimation than it was in 2009. Bill Shatner, you are right once again.

Strange New Worlds

I finally sat down and watched the first season of Strange New Worlds, all that there was of the show at the time that I wrote this. I wish I could come to the show with fresh eyes and not the same eyes that have watched the journey of Gene Roddenberry’s creation from the time that it first appeared on television screens way back when. Watched all the things that I detailed above come to pass. If I hadn’t seen all of those things and been offended by a good number of them I might be able to give this show the praise it probably deserves to receive.

Unfortunately I’m not that person, I’m just the jaded old fan that I am and hopefully always will be. So here goes my review of the first season. The first episode annoyed the fuck out of me. Transporting something into Spock’s eyeball? Great way to make his eye explode. Stupid tech solutions to stupid story plot points. I’ve seen these kinds of imaginary moments of crisis way, way too many times now on too many shows that should have had the collective intelligence to known better than to try that shit.

Children of the Comet

The second episode made me want to love the show. It perfectly encapsulated the moral quandary of the best of speculative fiction. I was truly impressed with the episode right up to the point where Captain Pike has to go through his quandary about being shown how he dies when he was part of the magic mushroom joyride that is all of Discovery.

Every episode of Strange New Worlds does some stupid thing or other that sets my teeth on edge. Dr. M’Benga storing his daughter in the transporter buffer, a sub-plot that leads up to the episode where she becomes a… god? Who knows what she is now, at least she’s not a dead person stored in a transporter buffer. Then there is the season finale that once again calls back to the magic mushroom joyride and makes it quite clear that this time crystal bullshit from Discovery is going to be a theme across the entire series. Every single episode does something that makes me ask “why am I watching this?”

I can’t. I just can’t. From a storytelling perspective I can appreciate the value of illustrating why Captain Kirk was the right man for the job illustrated in Balance of Terror versus the bungled job that Captain Pike does in A Quality of Mercy. From a philosophical perspective I don’t think that the writers or the producers of the current show understand what it was that Gene was trying for with his show about a future human society. Nor do I think they are interested in what Gene intended for the show beyond the fact that the fans demand more of it and the rights holders for it want to make money from that demand. I see no need to put money in their hands given my disturbed thoughts on the subject.

“Rest in peace, Star Trek. Say hi to Gene for me.”

Tatooine Dust Levels

The subject came up in raid chat the other day, the existence of Saharan dust in the atmosphere of the Southern United States. Apparently this was news to people who haven’t lived in the South for the last twenty years. It was about twenty years ago that I first heard reference to Saharan dust drifting on the winds from Africa and landing in my lungs here in Austin.

facebook/AveryTomasco

On a more serious note, here’s NASA explaining it:

The Sahara Desert is by far Earth’s largest source of airborne dust, and the storms can arise at any time of year. In winter and spring storms, Saharan dust often ends up fertilizing the nutrient-poor soils of the Amazon rainforest. Dust storms in the summer tend to loft material higher into the atmosphere, allowing plumes to travel thousands of kilometers on high-level winds. Those summer seasonal wind patterns can carry the dust from Africa to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Plumes of dust recently reached Florida, Texas, and other southern U.S. states in mid-May 2022.

earthobservatory.nasa.gov

This explains why I sound like a frog when I’m talking these days. My apologies.


August 3 – It’s baaaaack. Crap. I went for a walk yesterday without a mask and had a knot in my chest all the rest of the day. Luckily it went away while I was sleeping last night (for twelve hours again) now I’m coughing up a lung. No walking without masks. I see a lot of this in my future.

Earthly Amusements Triumphant

The cable truck and the Kingdom Hall.

The Kingdom Hall was across the street from our house in Leoti, Kansas (112 N St, Leoti, KS 67861. It’s a home now. Interesting fact, there are technically two locations with the same address in Leoti, one block East and one block West from 4th Street on Avenue N. One of them was probably always a house. The other was not. -ed.) The Jehovah’s Witnesses came by our house after every service to tell us the wonders of their God Jehovah and how we were all going to miss out on resurrection if we didn’t come across the street and worship with them. Didn’t join them in denying all earthly pleasures so that we could ascend to heaven after death or whatever the particulars of their belief were at the time.

I had been forced to go to the Methodist church with my grandparents for as long I as could remember as a child. I hated church and wondered at why everyone else thought that god and church were so important. Why they all seemed so happy believing this stuff that seemed so transparently fake to me. Their insistence that the beliefs weren’t fake were as terrifying as an eternity of torture in Hell was to me.

I never wanted to believe the afterlife crap. I never wanted to believe it because I have an active imagination and the idea that you could live forever in bliss or in torture, either one, scared me more than anything else these church goers said. I didn’t and still don’t want to be confined to eternal existence. Yes, I said confined. Confined to an eternal, unchanging existence.

Infinity isn’t graspable by most human minds. If it was they would all be terrified by the notion that you could be mentally present for an eternity. Time itself collapses under the requirements of accommodating eternity, infinity. Eternity/infinity never ends. Do you understand never ends? Your favorite movie watched endlessly forever? Every movie ever made through the span of millennia strung together end-to-end in a loop is still not enough. Gone everywhere, seen everything, done everything once, then what? Do it all again? How many times? Eventually everything would become boring after you’d seen or done it a hundred or a thousand or a million times, and you would have to find a way to kill yourself anyway.

I considered it a blessing and a high irony when the Kingdom Hall building was purchased by the newly created Leoti or Wichita county or Great Plains cable company. Leoti had a cable company once, believe it or not. I may not remember what the outfit was called but I do know we couldn’t afford to have cable entertainment installed and that the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped coming by regularly after they were no longer going to church next door to us.

If Jehovah’s Witnesses are capable of self-reflection and if they thought about their behavior dispassionately, they’d understand that forcing their believers to individually proselytize to people who told them not just once but a hundred times that they didn’t want them ringing their doorbell after church; that regular, predictable torment of the non-Witnesses next door tends to make these people want to take their years of frustration at finding their Watchtower garbage littering their front porches out on believers of the same stripe. If Jehovah’s Witnesses took this real human reaction to being forced to say FUCK OFF and GET OFF MY PORCH every week for years just because the Witnesses weren’t allowed to take no for an answer, maybe they’d understand why the group seems to be so persecuted. It kind of goes both ways. Persecute us with your delusions of true belief and we will persecute you in return.

It seemed like justice delivered to me watching that cable installer’s truck coming and going from the temple that had been founded on the principle of denying Earthly pleasure in favor of an everlasting afterlife. To see those parsimonious simpletons and their wrathful, imaginary god be replaced by a very real entity offering all the available Earthly amusements for a set dollar figure; even if that dollar figure was too high for us to afford. Such is the way with worldly things, the cost is higher than you want to pay in the end.

Facebook

The Babylon Project Reborn?

Back in February I wrote this article:

In it I opine about the deluge of bad Trek spinoffs, so much bad Trek that it would be easy to drown in the volume of it all. As a closing observation I tossed out a few paragraphs about the complete lack of revisits to a popular science fiction television show that I felt got short shrift back in the nineties, Babylon 5, and then proceeded to lament this fact. I said, in effect:

You, Hollywood mogul. Why don’t you leave the corpse of Star Trek alone and go mess around with the dream given form? It could use a bit more attention.

I have lamented about the sorry state of affairs that was the five-year run of Babylon 5 since the days that we waited breathlessly for each episode to drop, for each season’s contract to be picked up, for the replacement of cast characters, etcetera. It was a pins and needles affair through the entire experience.

As a wannabe storyteller, I wept when Commander Sinclair was replaced with Captain Sheridan. I knew what a hampering of the overall story arc that this replacement would represent. The compromise that was worked out that allowed Michael O’Hare to retire marked the show and altered everything that happened after it. Michael O’Hare wasn’t the first actor to be replaced from the original pilot lineup of characters. This wasn’t unexpected, but the number of actors who came and went as the story progressed was a staggering number for any series, culminating in the loss of my favorite character, Susan Ivanova played by Claudia Christian at the beginning of season five.

The syndication contract that was arranged at the beginning of the show proved to be a constant sore, with each succeeding season being marked by negotiations that threatened the show’s continued existence, much like the fictional threats to the five mile long space station that the show was about. All alone in the night. The fifth season was such an open question that series creator, J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) felt compelled to complete the majority of the storylines at the end of the fourth season instead of gambling on getting a fifth. In the end the fifth season was picked up by another network, but the snafu of getting all the contracts carried over caused the loss of Claudia Christian from the cast, which in my personal estimation marred the last season irrevocably. The fire had gone out of the show for me, and I watched with only passing interest as the series wrapped up its promised fifth season and bid us all a fond farewell.

The problems with the show didn’t end there, though. The coveted DVD copies that made or broke shows after their airtimes were finished back in the day were glacially slow in making their appearance, and they weren’t of the quality that we hardcore fans expected. The Wife and I made the ill-advised move to invest in laserdisc copies of the show, but the run of discs was never completed and we ended up having to sell the ones that were released for a pittance. That loss left a sour taste in my mouth, and has turned me against Fox media in all its forms ever since.

My ire for Fox is well-earned. They went on from defrauding us of the promised full release of laserdiscs for Babylon 5, went on to cover up for the fact that they skimped on putting together the episodes for airing. Fox never finished the composite shots correctly for widescreen display, and they never transferred the animation sequences to high definition formats, making display of the show on high-definition television an irksome task of squinting from just the right distance to make the show look good. All of this making Joe’s work to produce a show that could be transferred to new technologies in the future a waste of effort.

Today I read in the news that far from having hard feelings about Fox’s betrayal of his interests, Joe has decided to go back into business with Fox:

twitter.com/straczynski

To be continued.

You cannot step in the same river twice, for the river has changed, and you have changed.

Heraclitus

NBC App Wants Feedback?

I’ve been catching The Rachel Maddow Show via her audio podcast for years now. I occasionally watch the partial video podcast too, but only on days when I want to see what she’s talking about. Wednesday was one of those days.

There was some bit or other that was visual later in the show on September first, and so consequently not in the video podcast which is generally the first thirty minutes of the show or the first story, whichever comes out to about half of her airtime, and I thought I would try to catch that bit on MSNBC’s website (they do eventually get a transcript up. Not really useful for a show conducted in a visual medium. -ed.) While looking around on MSNBC.com I noticed that there was an NBC app that they said I could watch the show on, so I downloaded and installed the app.

The Rachel Maddow Show is indeed on the app, but the ability to search for clips from that or any show is almost non-existent, the same problem that I run into on the website. The content is almost always more easily found on YouTube than it is on MSNBC.com or NBC.com, even when NBC puts the video on YouTube themselves.

I couldn’t find the current episode of Rachel’s show that day. So I gave up and finished listening to the audio podcast. The next day it was the same problem when I thought I would start with the NBC app instead of heading straight to the podcast. I could find yesterday’s show (now I had forgotten what it was I had wanted to see in that show) but not that day’s episode. Back to my podcast app then.

What good is yesterday’s news? It is of little use unless you are constructing a narrative that spans the subject in question, as Rachel did when digging up what the news was on the day that Roe versus Wade was decided by the supreme court. I don’t need to see yesterday’s news if I’ve already heard that news. I had heard it. I heard it elsewhere.

Today I opened the app to watch Rachel Maddow for September 3rd, 2021. It isn’t available on the app yet. The feed helpfully says “finish watching” on the episode I’ve already seen elsewhere and queued previously. When I scroll through to the end of the episode, the app queued all the ads from the episode for me to watch just to finish the show. If I wanted to check that I’ve seen the end of the days news from her, I have to watch five thirty second ads.

I’m not going to watch five ads, not even five ten second ads. I won’t remember what the first two ads were about by the time I get to the fifth one. No, I’m going to close the app and do something else. Everyone would close the app and do something else.

When I exit the video stream, the NBC programmers incautiously ask me for for feedback on my dissatisfaction. My feedback? You might want to change the way that scrolling feature works. You won’t retain too many watchers if you don’t. You might want to rethink not putting the latest news show on the feed. Everyone will have seen the episode elsewhere before they will see it in the app, making including all of your news programming in the app pointless, those viewers permanently lost.

Also? The feedback page errored out when I went to send this novel to you. You might want to fix that issue as well. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Postscript

The reality of the situation is even more ridiculous than I described. I have to have a cable subscription to be able to access MSNBC content on my phone. Never mind that the content comes with ads embedded, ads that they pretend pay for the content (clearly the ads do not pay for anything. So why must I watch them?) I have to pay the middleman, the cable company or some similarly set up other middleman, in order to watch content that is available on the web for free if I simply wait a few hours and then go to a pirate site to download it.

I don’t mind paying for entertainment, I do that all the time. I do mind being charged for access to information that is necessary for the proper functioning of a self-representational governmental system. Access to current news is essential unless we are all going to just bow to the man and let him make our decisions for us.

Mirror Earth

While listening to the Rachel Maddow show tonight, I noted that she casually referenced Earth 2 as the place where Donald Trump is still president. It was an amusing bit of Science Fiction trivia to bring back to the front of mind for a few minutes while contemplating the looming destruction of democracy as we know it at the hands of the Republican’s favorite tyrant. The idea of a mirror Earth is one of the tropes that you hear repeatedly over and over again wandering around in and out of fandom. Pramila Jayapal can be forgiven for not knowing the reference later in the show. I doubt very many people do know it, or they might even be confused as to which Scifi/fantasy experience is the one being referenced.

I mean, there are multiple references that will come up if you go looking for the phrase Earth Two on Google. There was a recent television show and even a 2011 movie that run along the same vein. I had to go looking for the title of the movie that I was pretty sure Rachel was referencing myself because I hadn’t seen it since I moved out of that garish Abilene apartment that I shared with a friend back in 1984.

My roommate had one of the first VCR’s on the market, and he had compiled a pretty impressive catalog of movies including an off-air copy of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, the film by Gerry Anderson’s production company that was released in 1969. That is where the phrase Earth 2 comes from. The uneducated rube that I was at the time made fun of the cheezie effects in the film, even though I had been a serious fan of the Thunderbirds series produced by the same company back in 1966.

The movie was named Doppelgänger in Europe. Americans had to have a more explanatory title. Mystery isn’t a thing that the mundane American viewer can appreciate, I guess. here’s the trailer:

Journey to the far side of the Sun – Trailer (USA)

This is where the idea of a mirror Earth came from. While Star Trek’s Mirror, Mirror episode aired earlier than this movie it wasn’t in production before Doppelgänger was and doesn’t feature a mirror Earth suspended in space in the same universe as our own.

The fascination with evil twins predates this film, true. That goes back to the beginning of recorded history; and if you wanted to, you could say that Earth 2 is a reference to the duality of existence that has been a part of philosophy for a very long time. I don’t know how that could be seen as anything other than a hasty generalization, though. Give credit where credit is due, Doppelgänger is where the idea of a mirror Earth comes from today, no matter how widely spread the fear of the evil twin is in the media we consume.

I can’t find the movie anywhere that I can watch it without paying for it at the moment. I’ll have to keep looking because I really would like to sit down and watch it all the way through at least once without mocking it again. It’s the least I can do.


I have a lot of nostalgia for those old marionette shows, and not just the Thunderbirds series. I doubt that I would still find them edge-of-the-seat suspenseful like I did as a six year old child. There have been multiple attempts to restart Thunderbirds with modern digital effects and new stories:

Thunderbirds Are GoOfficial Global Trailer – Mar 13, 2015

…and I have resisted the urge to watch any of it as an adult, even the old shows themselves. They were so cool back in the sixties when they came on right after school. I would run home just to watch them with Major Astro and they were probably why I wanted to watch Star Trek when it debuted. I can’t imagine how they could be anything other than embarrassing to watch as an adult. Like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, the adult experience can’t hold a candle to the memories of a child.

Postscript

The featured image is a screenshot I took of a pivotal scene in the movie. I discovered a version of it streaming online and watched it through for completions’ sake. It was much better than I remembered it being, and yet just as flawed as I thought it would be on watching it again. It was both memorable and flawed in fundamental ways. If you can find it to watch somewhere, you should give it a chance and let me know what you think.

Informational Segregation

Discover the incredible true story of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and the US space program. Stream the documentary, Woman In Motion, exclusively on Paramount+ in the US on June 3.

Paramount+ on Facebook
Woman in Motion (2021)
Paramount PlusWoman In Motion – Apr 5, 2021

I love that this documentary exists. I need to say that first. I love the fact that one of my favorite actors had such a prominent role in diversifying NASA. Nichelle Nichols was the daughter’s idol as a child. She has a version of every Uhura doll that has been released since they first started making Star Trek toys back in 1974. The vendor who sold her that doll cried when she ripped it out of the package and started playing with it right there in front of him back in 1996. She is a fan and the daughter of true fans of Star Trek, the only series.

Got that? Good. I love the fact that this documentary exists, but I won’t be subscribing to Paramount+ just to see it. This documentary should be available streaming everywhere. Why won’t I subscribe to Paramount+ just to see it?

I won’t subscribe because we are forgetting the very lesson that Nichelle Nichols is promoting in the documentary.

Where are my people?

They aren’t visible because they were denied information. They were not just denied access, but they were denied even the information that would allow them to do jobs at NASA. This was done as part of the pursuit of insuring that the majority of the benefits created by technology landed in white men’s hands. They weren’t told that this was something they could do, and so consequently there were few who even asked if they might do it.

Hidden Figures (2016)
20th Century Studios UKHidden Figures | Official HD International Trailer – Sep 20, 2016

You would never have seen this movie made by a Hollywood studio at any point prior to 2016. Barack Obama’s election made Hidden Figures possible, because the popularity of Obama made movie investors sit up and take notice, be willing to hazard real money on a movie about the black women who were the pioneers of diversity in American government.

These women had to overcome obstacles that the average person has no way to understand. Not only the fact that they were women and they were black in the United States of the 60’s, but that the information that they needed to be who they were was reserved for people who could pay to access that information.

Information is for everybody who wants it, everyone who needs it, not just the people who can afford it. Information is not just for the people who subscribe to the correct entertainment channels and pay the right amounts to the right people. Information is for everybody, and we are allowing profit motives to re-segregate us into smaller and smaller groups. We are allowing copyright to Trump the best interests of our nation and our world.

This has to stop. We have to stop allowing copyright holders to refuse access to their products unless you are willing to pay them for it. This is the basis for the creation of libraries, the understanding that information should be available to everyone. The library should be a thing that you can access by computer or cellphone. You shouldn’t have to get in a car and go find a building somewhere in your city in order to borrow something from your library.

I look forward to seeing Woman in Motion and Hidden Figures played to children in schools, to adults who don’t think women and blacks should be allowed to do the same things as white men. They are the people who need this experience, and it should be made available to them, not just to the people willing to pay Paramount or Disney or any other copyright holder directly for their jealously hoarded intellectual property.

Train Tanker Crush; or, The Power of Vacuum

Someone posted a GIF captured from this video, claiming it was a telekinetic experiment or whatever:

Railroad tank car vacuum implosion – Sep 29, 2008

It took me mere moments to find the video the image came from, so I’m not sure if they were fools or trolls trying to fool others. It really doesn’t matter. The image itself was removed from the Facebook group it was posted in. The only reason this article makes it to the blog is because of the search I had to conduct just trying to find the Mythbusters episode that I knew demonstrated what this video doesn’t explain.

The video itself could have been of a crush test (it is not an implosion) The crowd in attendance suggests that it is a demonstration. The crowd is a little too close for comfort. The steel deformed in a way that suggests it wasn’t the same thickness as the Mythbusters tanker, but the Mythbusters definitely demonstrated what is going on in the video.

Discovery wants you to buy their videos, therefore Mythbusters isn’t available from them on YouTube. You can get them by subscribing to Discovery+ on Amazon.com or on their website, but you can’t watch full episodes on YouTube for any price. Discovery has a playlist for all the Mythbusters classic highlights, but not complete episodes. I watched all ten seasons of Mythbusters on Discovery, another must-see series whose ending marked the ending of my time paying for cable TV.

Now, to illustrate a scientific fact that I know to have been demonstrated before, I have to subscribe for a monthly fee just to be able to reference a specific episode of the show, and the person I want to show it to also has to subscribe in order to see that one show. This situation is beyond ridiculous. We should be able to just watch that one show if that is what we want to see. Not that I would pick that one episode of Mythbusters to watch. As impressive as the demonstration is, that is not the best episode of the show. What is the best episode? I’d have a hard time saying.

If you are talking to Discovery, tell them how frustrating the unavailability of this show is, please. I just wanted to be able to reference it for informational purposes. I shouldn’t have to pay them a fee just to be able to reference the show that already exists in their archives.

I did find another account that published the full Tanker Crush show. I created a playlist from their videos. I doubt that they will stay up long. There were other videos claiming to be that Mythbusters episode on YouTube and other video websites, but none of them that I looked at were complete.

Retconned To Death

A meme popped up in a facebook group I’m part of, a meme asserting that Babylon 5 was the third best Star Trek series of all time. I can see how this claim might be true. Since Deep Space 9 was in actuality the third Star Trek series, and since J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) suddenly came up with the seed money to create Babylon 5 after suing Paramount, the owners of the Star Trek franchise, and then dismissed the suit after an agreement with Paramount, after Paramount realized how much their new series looked like Joe’s pitch to them for Babylon 5; it is quite easy to say that the third Star Trek series was Babylon 5, if not the third best series of Star Trek.

The meme’s real problem becomes apparent when it suggests that the second best Star Trek series after The Original Series (The Only Series) was Star Trek: Enterprise (long time readers of this blog should have been able to hear my head explode when I read that name off the list) I must object to this outrage in the strongest of terms. Enterprise was crap. It was so much of a crap show that I used it to illustrate just how bad science fiction television can be:

…But I’ll go even farther and state for the record that everything Star Trek after and including a good portion of Star Trek: Voyager has been crap. One could argue (and one did) that at least half of TOS season 3 was crap:

Half of TNG was really boring and terrible. Half of Voyager was terrible. It is still the greatest and most culturally significant franchise in SF history. When you get right down to it, art is hard. Consistent quality over a period of decades may not be a reasonable expectation. Might as well savor the high points and forget the terrible stuff. Forget the terrible stuff except for that Voyager episode when they went too fast and turned into lizards. That episode is too unforgivably stupid to forget.

I have to disagree with him though. There is no saving Star Trek at this point. Star Trek has irredeemably jumped the shark. After Star Trek: Discovery promoted itself by having a character claiming a planet with a shredded battle flag. After Star Trek: Lower Decks descended into the gags we fans lamely thought up for ourselves forty years ago (sealing a crewmans ass closed with Starfleet’s medical equipment? Has that joke showed up yet? I’ll bet it has) These shows make Star Trek: Enterprise look like high drama now.

I know, I know, there was a post I wrote that responded to a suggestion that Star Trek jumped the shark way back at the beginning of this blog:

…and I went on a few short years later to declare Star Trek dead all on my own:

However, like most things, there remains still more to say on this subject. There is a reason that Galaxy Quest is considered one of the best Star Trek movies (in the top ten) a reason that the riffs on the ideas first presented in Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry seem to be spreading outside of science fiction television and are presented widely now as just the way people should try to be. That reason? Star Trek has ceased to be on the cutting edge of television and forward-thinking philosophy. It has become a myth that overshadows the current attempts to reclaim the glory that was 1966 Star Trek. A franchise destroyed by its corporate owner’s inability to understand what it was that made the show special:

Planet Money – How Desi Invented Television – January 22, 2021

I’m not just talking about poor scripting or bad acting or stupid technobabble or whatever (Voyager lizard episode fresh in the mind now, thanks) Gene Roddenberry was part of a revolution that was not of his own creation, and Star Trek was one of the first new shows to come out of that vision of what television could really be if we gave it a chance. Desi Arnaz had a vision of making television in a way that had never been done before, and Gene Roddenberry had an idea for a show that would present people in a way that had never been seen before. They, together with the cast and crew of the 1966 Star Trek series, created something that has never been equalled since that time in television history.

None of the movies ever came close to being what TOS was when it aired. None of the series ever came close to equaling TOS in its effect on American society. No series since TOS has come close. This is a simple fact established in the number of myths that have moved out into society at large from inside the show and the fans of that show that was. Everything created since the 1966 series has been an attempt to recapture the essence of that show and harness it as a money making vehicle for its corporate owners. All of it has done nothing more than cement TOS as the only Star Trek worthy of being called Star Trek.

Everything since the 2009 Abramanation has represented a wholesale abandonment of Roddenberry’s philosophy for the future society the stories are supposed to be about. This betrayal was radically on display in Into Darkness:

…Where, not only does an admiral of starfleet fire on his own ships, killing his own crews, but he attempts to hold them hostage with terroristic threats. This is ironically the opposite lesson from the one we learned from Space Seed, the TOS episode that featured the character Khan seen recreated in some Mirror, Mirror version of himself in Into Darkness, the lesson being that terrorism no longer motivates individuals to comply with the demands of the terrorist in that distant future. That the knowledge that terrorists use our own emotions against us empowers us to defy our own emotional drives and makes us stronger than the terrorists could ever be. That lesson forgotten, the actors go through the same old cardboard cutout routines that they are paid to perform. The cardboard villain fails. The paper hero triumphs. The popcorn is stale and the sodas are flat, and I am no longer interested in the things that exploit my nostalgia for days gone by.

J.J. Abrams not even taking an interest in what kind of stories Star Trek had been about prior to his helming the 2009 movie shows itself in the works that he has created since 2009. Paramount’s insistence on treating the shows they’ve generated since 2009 as all equally Star Trek has driven off a lot of the original fans of the show. It is one thing to love Galaxy Quest and laugh at the good humored poking of fun at all things Trek from outside the Trek universe. It is another thing to consume this stuff that calls itself Trek and then continue treating it as if it is all worthy of fannish devotion.

My conclusion stated flatly? It isn’t worth the investment of time to even consume and then write criticisms of it, and I won’t waste even more time talking to people who think it is worth that investment of time. This is just more of the same from me on the subject of nostalgia. I don’t waste time arguing with Star Wars fans about the debacle that has been the Star Wars franchise since the beginning. There are other worthy subjects out there to spend time on, so I’ll do that instead.

Since this article started with my objections to a Babylon 5 meme, I want to point out that Joe’s worthy efforts to present his five year story arc failed in one important way. He had to fundamentally alter the story arc in season two in order to allow for the failing health of Michael O’Hare. Consequently the show did not end with the unavoidable destruction of the station and everyone on her at the time, as the arc was originally plotted out to end. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show right up to the point where Claudia Christian left at the end of season four. I felt season five was seriously weak tea, an interesting sideshow of events that had to happen in order to fill out the final season that Joe didn’t think he would be allowed to produce because of the way the show’s broadcast contracts were mishandled by the various television networks of the time.

Since we’re all about harvesting nostalgia for the good old days for its dollar value in the here and now, why don’t we try that with the second most influential series in television history? Babylon 5, the first of the long-form story arc multi-season shows that aired on television, the show that lead to the kind of scripting that you find in almost every single television series on the air today. Gone are the one-off shows that do not develop characters from episode to episode in a glorious never-changing now. The characters reflect on the things we’ve seen them do, and their previous actions are referenced in later episodes directly even if the stories themselves don’t flow from episode to episode seamlessly. Babylon 5 gave us that.

Let’s take that original Babylon 5 five year story arc and generate a new show with new actors that begins and ends the arc as Joe intended when he plotted it out and pitched it to the networks back in 1992. New scripts, new characters, same overarching story. Let’s do it just to show how malleable the narrative device is, how influential all the different parts that go into creating a show can be.

Maybe then we can understand just how Desi Arnaz was as influential as Gene Roddenberry was in the making of Star Trek, but less influential than the authors of the scripts and the actors in front of the cameras were. Maybe then we’ll understand what we sacrifice when we let people shake us down for nostalgia’s sake. At the very least we’ll get the conclusion to Babylon 5 that we were promised when we started watching it back in 1993. One that will look great on HD television, even.

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Another image from my lovingly maintained electronic shrine to Babylon 5, transferred from computer to computer since 1993. Image found available online here

Featured image: Star Trek’s Enterprise superimposed over a satellite image of Earth