Even Killer Whales Are Not Sharks

Not to keep beating the dead horse of Star Trek, but I stumbled on an article just now that does an amazing job of illustrating the difference between Star Trek and what I’ll now label “conflict sci-fi” that we were talking about earlier.

This article does a great job of capturing, as it calls it, the soul of Star Trek, but what’s particularly astounding to me about this article is the shocking synchronicity with a dream I had last night. The article talks about the fiction of the conscious versus the fiction of the unconscious, the story of the whale versus the story of the shark.

My dreams last night were all about conflict and anxiety and impending pain and loss. They culminated in one where I was swimming in shallow, rough, but also clear, tropical waters barely in sight of land. And I was surrounded by killer whales. They continually breached near me and seemed to be watching me, circling me. I was scared. Adding to the fear was the fact that waves were constantly breaking over me, pushing me under the water, sometimes down to the bottom (which was less than 20 feet down at any given time). So I was spending quite a bit of time under the water, where it felt like I was even more vulnerable to attack. During one of these struggles back to the surface, I finally found the courage to open my eyes. And there, not two feet from me, was the huge face of a killer whale. Immediately the apocryphal shark attack advice came to me–if you’re attacked by a shark, punch it as hard as you can, in the nose if possible. But looking at this huge thing before me, that seemed absurd. It’s mouth was closed, but all I could think about were its teeth and how it could so easily bite me in half at the waist. Of course I knew it wasn’t a shark, but still it seemed aggressive, dangerous. Still, I reached out, maybe even intending to punch it. I closed my eyes again and imagined that the next (and last) thing I would feel were dozens of dagger-pointed teeth sinking into my arm. That was the scariest moment, expecting to feel those teeth.

But what my hand fell upon was not teeth. It was flesh. Not exactly soft, but smooth and warm and clearly alive. I opened my eyes and saw my hand laying perfectly on the animal’s expansive black forehead. The whale turned slightly to the side and pushed past me and down. As my hand trailed almost lazily along its full length, I realized a connection: what I felt when I reached out and found smooth mammalian skin instead of predator’s teeth, the whale felt something akin to that at my touch. This was not the dynamic of shark and man, predator versus predator, our only options to kill, be killed, or ignore–unconsciously. This was brotherhood, symbiosis, tolerance, conscious acknowledgement of sameness. This all took only seconds, and when I reached the surface again the sea was still rough and the killer whales were still there, but they looked very different to me and my fear was gone.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Vanderbilt University hosted a journalism bootcamp for bloggers this weekend. According to Newsweek this included session on “learning how to access government statistical databases and analyze the material in them.” Wow, maybe they can get some “real” journalists to attend this thing next year. Especially the ones who work for Rupert Murdock.

Okay, now I need to get back to making this blog “unreliable, libelous or just poorly written.” Oh, wait, I never stopped! Then again, I never claimed to be a journalist. I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my media whoredom.

Goodbye Star Trek, Hello Star Wars?

We just finished talking about the end of Star Trek on television, now there’s a rumor of Lucas producing a Star Wars TV series. I’d consider this vaporware for the moment, but 100 TV episodes set between “episodes” three and four is at least an interesting idea. And using the Orson Scott Cardstick for “good” sci-fi, I don’t think anyone has had sex once in the six movies, so if they extend that to TV it should be “great” sci-fi!

Finally an End to Wartime Lumber and Bauxite Shortages!

Yes folks, we’re apparently fighting WWII all over again, because we’re having to rape the National Parks System for lumber and minerals. It’s been such a hardship paying these outrageous, environmental-protection inflated prices: 88 cents for a 2×4 at Home Depot, $2 for a twelve pack of soda in aluminum cans.

And before I start hearing any of this “bolstering local economies” crap vomited back from the press release, let me remind you, these are national parks! By definition they’re in the middle of nowhere. They are the middle of nowhere. That’s what they’re for. There are no local economies (except maybe tourism, and logging is good for that right?). Plus, mining and logging are no longer local businesses anyway. According to Erik Reece’s recent Harper’s article, only nine men are required to shear off the top of a mountain and completely mine it of coal. Nine guys, and they ain’t locals–they’re itinerant specialists. They’re staying in Motel 6 and eating at McDonald’s, so unless you’ve got really expensive prostitutes in your town and they spend like there’s no tomorrow, I’m not sure where even a trickle-down local economic boost is coming from. Strip mining (the only kind now regularly employed for bulk mineral extraction in this country) and clear-cut logging are, by definition, get-in-and-get-out operations. They’re undertaken by highly-mobile, limited-liability shell companies tenuously owned (but wholly controlled) by giant corporations. They don’t linger, they don’t build infrastructure, and they don’t contribute to the local tax base.

So yeah, I was being sarcastic there in the beginning. This isn’t about shortages. It’s not even about economics. It’s about one of the more absurdist plays in the current administration’s playbook: if it happened under Clinton, undo it. Clinton wanted to protect the national parks? Well hell, bubba, we gotta fix that!

If You Love/Hate Gmail You’ll Love/Hate This

So Google has now come out with a proxy service they call Web Accelerator. Basically what this means is you configure your browser to point to Google’s servers and they attempt to serve you web pages and images faster than the actual sites you’re viewing would have been able to. This isn’t new; in fact it’s very similar to the cache already employed by your browser. The trick is, now there’s a new cache: on Google’s servers. There are many potential problems with this, but the central one I can see people getting up-in-arms about is–as usual with Google–privacy.

Most people already use Google in lieu of typing URLs and maintaining “favorites” lists–it’s just faster. So Google already pretty much knows where you’re spending your time online. If you use gmail, then Google is also reading your mail. Now they’re theoretically going to see every byte you surf, with a few exceptions. Can you feel that slippery slope starting to kick in yet? Yeah, I’m not sure either. I will say that the performance improvements will need to be significant–just as they have been with gmail–to justify using this service. Having used other proxy-like “web accelerators” in the past, I’m skeptical but maintaining an open mind. Especially since they’re employing “pre-fetching” which is a truly great, and as I remember somewhat controversial, technology that pulls down web content you might never view just so you can have it show up on your screen super-fast when you do click it. Perhaps I’ll be brave enough to try this thing at some point. If anyone else tries it, let me know what you think.

As a side note, from a web-developer perspective, there are some pretty good reasons to avoid proxy and cache altogether. Also, webmasters, let me know if the Google proxy starts turning up in your server logs and/or breaks your stats package. This could be like AOL all over again for us tech heads. Ugh.

This Land is Our Land

In the previous post, I had consciously decided not to take on the task of arguing why Star Trek doesn’t suck, but in responding to a comment I found I went there anyway. So here’s the response that broke out of the little comment box to become a real post:

There is a point where my skepticism comes full circle and turns back into optimism. I think it would be foolish to believe this is the last we’ll see of Star Trek. Roddenberry is dead, and the last three series have mostly been products of hacks who don’t care for or about the franchise. But eventually Paramount will realize yet again they’re squatting on exploitable intellectual property and be tempted to go back to the trough one… more… time.

It would be nice if such an effort could be driven by a Kaufman- or Whedon-level creative talent, but I’m not sure if the fans would accept it. Blandness is part of the appeal of Star Trek. The farther you try to go outside the box—DS9, Voyager, Enterprise—the more the fans (and the critics) hate you. Unlike some of the more fantastical works cited, the Star Trek world is supposed to be our world just a little farther down the road and somewhat improved. No ghosts, no mysterious forces. Remember, when Star Trek first arrived on the scene, we had an honest-to-goodness space program. We had guys walking around on another planet (yes, our binary sister, but it counts) all the damned time! This was not fantasy, it was projection. And yet, as we’ve seen, Enterprise has spent most of the season breaking out of that connection to “our” reality, with alternative-reality and -timeline stories, and I bet this has alienated the fans while elating the critics, who can finally pick out the shark-jumping moment. But from Card’s argument and examples of “good” sci-fi TV this is what they should have been doing all along: creating real jeopardy, taking chances with big story arcs, getting jiggy with the frame of reference. So which is it to be? The bright, shiny, imaginable future that we can all hope for and work toward, or the gritty, complicated, sometimes-hallucinatory, dystopic fantasy that we think of as cutting-edge entertainment these days? What was it Bruce Sterling said at SXSW this year? We have two choices: the unimaginable or the unthinkable. The unthinkable is what you get if you don’t work toward the unimaginable. The whole point of Star Trek is that it’s utopian. It’s supposed to show us there is a future waiting out there, a place that’s better than what we have now but which can logically be projected from today. Because guess what, that was somewhat in doubt in the late 60s and it’s even more in doubt in 2005. So what’s wrong with a utopia that still manages to share our problems, and maybe even gets to solve them once in a while? It may be “bad” entertainment, but it’s the best kind of propaganda. I think this was the real appeal of the Star Trek universe, and if anything we need this kind of reminder now more than ever.

So yeah, maybe it’s sentimental and over-simplified. Maybe it fails on many levels to be “good” sci-fi or drama. But I don’t think you can ignore the longevity and popularity, and yes even the rabidity, the fact that even when it’s been produced by people who don’t really give a shit and for all the wrong reasons, it’s still managed to connect deeply with people across huge demographic gulfs. There’s more to the story than production values. And you know what, bottom line, if Orson Scott Card hates it, I want to like it right there. The enemy of my enemy and all that.

Smallville is Better Than Star Trek?

I’m guessing that this page will require registration at some point, but Orson Scott Card has a piece in the L.A. Times about the (current) death of Star Trek. He seems even happier to see it go than Jolene Blalock.

To put this in perspective, Card is a homophobe and a right-wing religious nut…excuse me, Mormon…so perhaps the tolerant, secular universe of Star Trek makes him uncomfortable. Not perhaps–it would have to. Not that Star Trek ever managed to address homosexuality directly. Though I suppose it’s implied that Phlox is bisexual. Then again he’s also polygamous, which maybe gives him a pass in Card’s book.

So why is Smallville better than Star Trek? Because no one ever manages to have sex, of course!

How To Make Yourself Unpopular in the Blogosphere in One Easy Step

Step 1: Poke fun at something you absolutely agree with and support on boingboing.

In the roughly four months since I turned on comments, I had never received a single outside comment on my blog until I posted this. And then the shit hit the fan. Well, I got two comments anyway. And they were valid ones. But it’s the middle of the night still, so I have some concerns about what tomorrow may bring.

I haven’t felt like such a square since I bogarted the drink tickets at Bruce Sterling’s SXSW party. Well, I don’t call this site dickdiamond.com for nothing.