Sunday, December 19, 2010

Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation II

Hrm, I don't seem to have been posting much lately. Why could that be?

Oh yeah, I've been watching more Star Trek:
  • The Last Outpost: This episode is one of the more comic episodes. One of the themes that re-surfaces here, which was actually present in Code of Honor is about the role of women in society. In Code of Honor, the alien race is constantly shocked that Lieutenant Yar is given a position of authority and power. The Last Outpost one-ups that sentiment by providing the Ferengi, who are constantly professing a deep moral abhorrence to the idea that women are permitted to wear clothes.

    Another theme comes up: the relationship between the extremely powerful (almost godlike) and the definition of human. A dead planet (the Last Outpost) is being protected by an outdated computer defense program that wipes out barbarian races on sight. But mankind passes on the chance to destroy the Ferengi, instead teaming up with them to find their way out of trouble, and that attracts the attention of the god-like caretaker, who realizes they have potential. Oh, and the god-like caretake apparently really likes Sun-Tsu.

    This care-taking omniscience testing man-kind is the underlying thesis of the show -- which, by the way, is not that far with the core plot of Babylon 5. What is mankind, and what will it do when its science reaches the point that they are like gods? That's why the show opens with Q -- the central organizer of this theme. Unlike Babylon 5, though, it's a theme, not a plot.

    So, ticking off two boxes: mankind as the developing messiah, and a repeated attention to the future as having really good equality between men and women.

  • Where No Man Has Gone Before: A liar and a braggart who is commonly believed to be the greatest living warp physicist tries a calibration test of the engines, and they wind up basically way, way, way too far away from anywhere they recognize. (Voyager fans are pretty familiar with this -- this is the premise of their series).

    The braggart is actually being fed data by a mysterious creature named The Traveller, who is basically a tourist who's looking around at our reality. In other words, another nearly-omnipotent being a little bit blind to their impact on lesser creatures. The rights of the powerful over the less powerful is another aspect of this general premise.

    It comes up frequently in the form of the "Prime Directive," a rule that (somewhat ambiguously) forbids Star Fleet from messing with "less advanced" (more "primitive") species. But they're always being messed around with by more advanced creatures.

    The Traveller, unlike Q, realizes his mistake, and expends his energy to get them home. In the process, though, he isolates Wesley Crusher (a trope namer) as being a messiah figure -- the first one among the crew who will eventually transcend this reality with his genius.

    What makes not-our-reality different from this one? It's a place where thought becomes reality -- the end point of science and of power. It's the power that Q offers Riker. The power is pure thought.

  • Lonely Among Us: The flip-side of the "powerful advanced life-form" is the "powerless, desperate energy/crystalline being." In this one, it's an energy being that gets caught in the USS Enterprise when it passes through a nebula. It really just wants to go home, so it takes over various people on the crew to try and get them to drive the ship home.

    The point at which "something" becomes "something alive" is pretty crucial to understanding what makes us ourselves. For Star Trek, that line appears to be defined around "intentionality." It comes up over and over again: the moment where they realize that the energy is trying to get home. It is clearly alive.

    One of the things that I appreciate about The Next Generation is the capacity of this crew's ability to forgive. In The Original Series, there was a habit of it being an "us-versus-them" battle. A group of creatures in one TOS episode try to take over the crew because their race has nearly died out and they need host bodies to survive in. TNG would probably tackle this by trying to find a way -- maybe in the holodeck -- that they could survive without needing the crew's bodies. In TOS Captain Kirk swings out an old "well we're not going to suffer for their mistakes" and at the end, everyone stands there with frowny faces unhappy about the end of a race.

    In this episode, once they realize the helplessness of the energy creature, it's clear that they will have to go back to the nebula and reunite it. This choice is easy this time, but when the same choice comes up later, they react differently.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Census Data Made Beautiful

I'm breaking my "not reblogging things that Andrew Sullivan posts" but this is just too amazing not to share.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Organs of State: The Story Of The Chisel Boy

I have mentioned my company repeatedly. You may be wondering who we are and what we do.

Wonder no longer: come and see our latest show, The Story Of The Chisel Boy:
Once upon a time there was a boy and his mother who lived in a beautiful old house in the woods. The mother so loved her son and the light he brought into her home, but knew she could not keep him close forever. And so, at the behest of his mother, the boy carved her objects out of wood so that she could keep reminders of his warmth and beauty forever. The more the boy carved, the more his mother craved for her collection, until one night the boy's most beautiful creation came to life...

Welcome citizens! to the Organs of State Network of Concerned Parents’ first ChildWorks assembly. This season is a celebration of the State’s oldest folklore, beginning with THE STORY OF THE CHISEL BOY presented in association with Organs of State and the Organs of State Center for the Development of Children.

15 December - 19 December @ 8 PM
+ 19 December @ 3 PM

+ join us 17 December @ 9:30 PM for the Organs of State sponsored "Birthday Party" in the venue. OPEN BAR! with Organs of State's famous brew: the McCallister!

General Admission
Show + Friday Party................$20

Citizen Admission
Show + Friday Party................$15

Tickets are at the door or online at

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

Data: "I doubt they wear red, white, and blue or look much like Uncle Sam."
Worf: "Uncle Sam?"
Yar: "What have bright, primary colors got to do with it?"
Picard: "Well, I understand the allusion. Colors representing countries at a time when they competed with each other. Red, white and blue for the United States; whereas the French, more properly, used the same colors in the order blue, white and red."
- Star Trek TNG: The Last Outpost

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation

I'm watching all of Star Trek: The Next Generation over again. From start to end. God rest my soul.
  • Encounter at Farpoint: Man, it's tough watching a show get off the ground. There's so much about this episode that's clunky and awkward that comes off so much better later. Q is over-theatric and isn't in his smooth, omnipotent zone that makes him one of my favorite parts of the later show; Data talks less like Data and more like that robot from KOTOR; the moralism at the end is heavy-handed even by Star Trek standards.

    The thrust of the episode is that, in a new area of space, Q (an apparently omnipotent, all-powerful being) is going to put Mankind on trial, in the form of putting Captain Picard and the crew online. He is basically asking, "Given the incredible pain and destruction that 'savage' humans cause, wouldn't it be better if they didn't exist?" In order to prove mankind's worthiness, Picard has to unravel the mystery of Farpoint station, and ignore the urge to leap to violence in favor of understanding and caring.

    Q, and the basic moral question he poses, is effective even in this early, still-shaky episode. The plot device of how mankind proves its innocence is kind of hokey, but Q's role in it becomes ambiguous -- is he really out to destroy mankind, or is he giving them the opportunity to prove themselves? It's a great way to set out a mystery that Q continues to pose as he returns later in the series.

  • The Naked Now: Yeah, it's basically fan-service, which is pretty incredible considering as it's the second bloody episode. Plot: everyone gets drunk (I'm not kidding). Data has sex with Lieutenant Yar (my least favorite, and thusly edited out, character), Dr. Crusher tries to seduce Picard -- in fact, the image of sexuality in this episode is really, really disturbing. Lieutenant Yar's chat-up line is basically, "I used to be raped a lot as a child, please treat me gently!" whereas Dr. Crusher tries desperately to think clearly but can't because she's drunk and her lady-parts are lonely.

    Also, the fanbase alienating Wesley Crusher is, as always, on screen too much.

  • Code of Honor: I made it past the slight sexism and general sex-weirdness of the last episode, but the racism in this episode is really, really difficult to get past. Plot: a less-advanced-than-Starfleet race who happen to all be black (Picard comments on how they're "reminiscent of an ancient Earth situation), who are very violent but governed by an obtuse and apparently arbitrary set of honor-based rituals, claim Yar as their property, because in their society women own the land but men own the women. At one point, the chief of the aliens basically says, "We protect ourselves in a cloak of honor," when talking about manipulating the seemingly stupid women.

    At the end, women get the better of men, but still, the portrayal of an aggressive, honor-based tribal feudal system populated by black people who are directly compared to ancient earth cultures...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fourth Wall

Oi! Do you want to hear a reasoned, intelligent, but approachable and hilarious discussion of the fourth wall? You won't get it from Charles Isherwood, you'll get it from Judge John Hodgman.

That's right, The Daily Show's John Hodgman referees an intelligent, nuanced, and sourced debate that looks at the historical and aesthetic considerations for and against the fourth wall, and comes up with a resounding defense of its use.

And it's also really funny. Give it a listen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Legal Commentary: Most Horrifying Summation of a SCOTUS Case

via SCOTUSBlog:

Title: Brooks v. Gaenzle
Docket: 10-621
Issue(s): Whether a fleeing suspect, who was intentionally shot in the back by police but not immediately arrested, was “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Listen folks, I'm hep to the idea that the specifics of a case shouldn't distract from the importance of legal theory, but that's some fucking ridiculous sauce.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mosque Gets Restraining Order To Prevent FBI From Inciting Terror

Yup, that's a true story. Oh, and where did it happen? In my family's home-town of Irvine, CA, whose crime rate is about 0.14 the national average.

If you've got some time, you might want to listen to this classic This American Life about similar entrapment, in the case that made Chris Christie's career.

Quote of the Day

If you don't know, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created what we think of today as the web (networks of computers using an HTTP protocol to connect to each other). And he's still around, vaguely overseeing the web in his capacity as leader of the World Wide Web Consortium. and he's got this to say about the direction the internet is taking:
If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.

Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected.

Austan Goolsbee

I have a terrible man-crush on this guy. He makes economics cool.

Quote of the Day

"Looked at in terms of copyright, the Digital World was perceived as a bug. The ease of copying led to rampant infringement that harmed creators. In contrast, again looked at in terms of copyright, I submit that the Networked World should be embraced as a feature."

I'd love to see Microsoft really live up to that.

Copyright's Motives

Cory Doctorow (of BoingBoing fame), writing for the Guardian Online, asks "Why does society value a copyright?" It's a RTWT kind of post. Here's a taste:
Diversity of participation matters because participation in the arts is a form of expression and, here in the west's liberal democracies, we take it as read that the state should limit expression as little as possible and encourage it as much as possible. It seems silly to have to say this, but it's worth noting here because when we talk about copyright, we're not just talking about who pays how much to get access to which art, we're talking about a regulation that has the power to midwife, or strangle, enormous amounts of expressive speech.

Here's something else copyright can't and won't do and doesn't do: deliver a market where creators (or investors) set a price for creative works, and audiences buy those works or don't, letting the best float to the top in a pure and free marketplace. Copyright has never really worked like this, and it certainly doesn't work like this today.

This Is Why We Can Have Nice Things, Sometimes

Isaac gently reminds his readers that it's his blog, on his rules:
Lots of people felt alienated from The Walking Dead Roundtable because they weren't watching the show. I dig it. But-- while those posts were often reviews of specific episodes-- they still contained all sorts of interesting ideas about storytelling. There were posts about gender politics in mass entertainment, about how post-apocalyptic narratives work, about why we tell zombie stories, about "genre" entertainment vs. "serious" entertainment and the signals that each sends off and more. The issues raised by the show aren't confined to the show, in other words, even if the way the frame that contained those issues was constructed made people less interested in them.

... I hope you won't skip [the upcoming Buffy Binge]. If you do, you'll be missing out on a really smart writer tackling a piece of popular entertainment through a short list of concerns that she's an expert on, and using that show as a springboard for a discussion of how narrative and storytelling works in different formats. In other words, you could learn something, and it'll be fun. Not bad for a blog.
Maybe that's the answer to the question Monkey See blog asked:
What on earth ever happened to encouraging audiences to pay attention to things that may be different from the things they were expecting?
By late afternoon Eastern time, more than 200 had answered the call, setting up "mirror" sites, many of them with the name "wikileaks" appended to their Web addresses. They organized themselves organically using the Twitter hashtag #imwikileaks, in a virtual show of solidarity reminiscent of the movie V is for Vendetta. In that 2005 film, a Guy-Fawkes masked vigilantee inspires thousands of Londoners to march on the Parliament similarly disguised -- while it blows up in front of their eyes. Presumably, many of these people believe they are facing the same sort of tyranny that V, the film's protagonist, fought against.

Really, Foreign Policy? So they're all posting #imwikileaks. And it reminds you of a movie. And that movie is... V for Vendetta. Might I suggest you rent the incredible movie Spartacus:

Of course, maybe it makes no difference. Although V is a terrorist (albeit a sympathetic one) and Spartacus was the leader of a slave uprising.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Quote of the Day

“Well, there’s not much entertainment in a game of eating, so we decided to create enemies to inject a little excitement and tension. The player had to fight the enemies to get the food. And each of the enemies has its own character. The enemies are four little ghost-shaped monsters, each of them a different colour - blue, yellow, pink and red. I used four different colours mostly to please the women who play - I thought they would like the pretty colours.”
- Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man creator

This, and more, at a new blog called Game Internals, who open with a post describing how the ghosts work. (h/t BoingBoing)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

NPR's Monkey See Blog has a must-read recap of a Steve Martin interview that went awry:
Martin sat down at the Y (which is famous for its lecture series and other cultural events) the other night for an hour-long chat with interviewer Deborah Solomon. The discussion apparently displeased some of the people in the audience by focusing too much on art, which forms the backdrop for his new novel, An Object Of Beauty.

Midway through the interview, a Y representative brought a note to Solomon — on stage! — telling her to talk more about his career. Presumably, she was supposed to ask more stuff about what it was like making Three Amigos and The Jerk. In other words, stop talking about the things people aren't used to hearing Steve Martin talk about, and get back to having him answer questions people could easily find the answers to if they cared to use Google. (Martin has said this redirection was the result of real-time e-mails coming from people watching on closed-circuit TV; the Y apparently hasn't confirmed that.)
The blogger vents some well-directed rage at the Y:

But the way the Y responded was stunning. Not only did it chastise and undermine an interviewer and a guest in the middle of a live event, but the next day, it offered everyone who was there a full refund in the form of a credit toward a future event. Not because the lights went out, and not because there was an outburst of profanity that was winding up on YouTube or anything of that nature. No, closest the Y came to explaining what substantively motivated the refund (other than the very fact of people complaining) was, "We planned for a more comprehensive discussion."

When you go to hear someone speak, and you have no guarantee of the agenda, you do not get your money back because you didn't like the subject areas. Listening to a human being speak and being put out that you didn't get what you ordered as if you've gone to KFC and gotten Original instead of Extra Crispy is ridiculous, risk-averse, and (coincidentally) deeply chicken-hearted behavior.
It is exactly — exactly — like demanding your money back because Elton John didn't play "Rocket Man." Too bad, so sad. Nobody promised you the cookie-cutter experience that every other audience seeing every other similar event has ever seen. When you see an artist perform — and even more so when you hear an artist interviewed — there is no guarantee of the content; that's the exact point of going. Why would you go to hear someone speak if you already knew what he was going to say? If you want to read about how Steve Martin feels about acting and comedy, couldn't you find several looseleaf binders full of that stuff? The guy is not a recluse.

What on earth ever happened to encouraging audiences to pay attention to things that may be different from the things they were expecting?
Dig that last sentence. Read it again:
What on earth ever happened to encouraging audiences to pay attention to things that may be different from the things they were expecting?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Trailers for Theater

So, I've seen two trailers for theater. This one for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (sorry, can't find a link) and this one for the Under the Radar Festival:

Under The Radar 2011 from UTRFestival on Vimeo.

You know what they have in common? They both rely on their review snippets to sell themselves.

Am I the only one who hates it when something tells me how good it is? I think both ads would be far more effective if you just showed your show in all its flying colors. If you can't make it look good without telling people it's good, try harder. Or quit.

(Although that being said, the Under the Radar trailer does actually look cool).

Know Thy Enemy

It's pronounced CHEE-ney.