Resurrection without revolution not likely even in the 23rd century

I saw the new “Star Trek” movie this weekend, and I’d recommend it to Trek fans without reservation.  (If you want to see it but haven’t yet, don’t read on—thar be spoilers here.)

I’m still not comfortable with the whole “let’s reset the timeline” thing introduced in the 2009 movie, which I suppose means I don’t like it.  While I appreciate that the new writers and producers don’t want the new stories in what they hope will be a whole string of movies to be constrained by the history established in six previous television series (counting the animated series, 726 episodes in total) and ten previous movies, so far I can’t help but think “that’s wrong” each time I see something that didn’t happen in the original timeline, especially the lovestruck Uhura.  Maybe I’ll get over it.

With that in mind, I have to say I was disappointed in myself for taking quite so long to see the parallels between the new movie’s story and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”  Of course I remembered Khan (“I grow…fa-tigued again.”  “ADMIRAL?  ADMIRAL Kirk?!  “I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!”), but I didn’t recognize the hero-selflessly-saves-the-Enterprise motif, with Kirk and Spock exchanging roles and dialogue, until it was completely unmistakable to anyone who saw the 1982 movie.

Back then it took another whole movie to bring the hero back from the dead, but today it just took the last ten or so minutes of this flick.  And I took it all in as presented, jumping right from resurrection of the captain to the relaunch of his ship a year later without giving any consideration to what probably would really have happened in the wake of McCoy’s greatest feat of medical prestidigitation.  Fortunately, our friends at The Awl have turned up the good doctor’s own recollection

Ridiculous, to think it all started over a tribble. A lifeless bundle of fur. I always kept a dead tribble in my Curio of Maladies in those days, for medical reasons, and was especially glad of it when they finally hauled Khan’s body aboard for study after the battle.

Kirk was particularly dead that day; I remember because everyone was crying and the science woman kept all of her clothes on. As is my habit, I injected several of Khan’s more personal fluids (super-fluids, if you’ll pardon the medical terminology) into the tribble to see what would happen.

The tribble returned almost immediately to life. I remember because I thought to myself, “Ah, I seem to have conquered death. Tremendous,” at the time.

As a doctor, this made my job a great deal easier.

As I mentioned before, Kirk was dead—terribly dead—being chock full of radiations and so forth, so I decided he’d make an excellent second test subject for my Home Death Remedy and plugged him with a bit of the super-blood a few minutes later.


Within a week, the Federation had clawed itself into thirteen warring factions, all ready to destroy entire star systems at the prospect of getting their hands on that serum.

Kirk was immediately taken to a research-torture facility by a group of scientists from Section 31. In a way, I think we all failed to take into account the interest this shadowy government organization, with the resources to build a super-advanced death-ship in absolute secrecy, might take in a serum that reverses death.

I tried to tell them I was a doctor, but it didn’t even slow them down. They killed most of the crew in their raid, which I thought damned inconvenient, until I remembered the immortality serum I had developed, from super-blood.


The rest you undoubtedly know. The wild-eyed men and women who took to showing up at my offices at all hours of the night, bearing the fresh and mangled corpses of their loved ones in their arms, begging for serum. The armies of the frozen half-dead, the resurrected children brought back to crazed and formless life by their deranged, grief-stricken parents, the Blood Colonies.

You wanna talk about changing history…

Gay marriage news, the Anglo-American edition

It was only in passing that I mentioned last month’s election results that put another four states on the side of the angels in the fight to legalize gay marriage. There’s been an important development since then: the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments in two cases on the issue, opening the possibility of a legal precedent that will apply to every state in the union.

Supporters of giving same-sex couples the right to marry are enthused, since this decision comes in relatively close proximity to (1) President Obama announcing his support for gay marriage, (2) another appeals court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (Windsor v. United States), and (3) people in more states voting in favor of same-sex unions. Emily Bazelon writes in Slate with some great background on the two cases themselves, and offers a warning: don’t assume that because four justices agreed to hear the cases that there are five of them who will rule in favor of gay marriage. Conventional wisdom has it that the court follows the people, but I’m trying not to get overly optimistic: it could be that the justices who said yes to taking up the matter are predisposed to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act or to defer to states on the whole thing…and 39 of them have outlawed gay marriage either by statute or in their constitutions.

I wish we could get some of those states, or Congress, to think about this issue in the way Britain’s government proposes: legalize same-sex marriage in civil law, and make the clear stipulation that religions which object cannot be forced to perform gay weddings.

Face it: most of the objection to same-sex marriage in our country claims a basis in religious teaching. I sympathize with people who are afraid that legalizing a practice condemned by their religion would somehow infringe on their own religious freedom, although I don’t think that would happen in this case. But the core issue as I see it is not one of religious freedom, it’s a question of equal protection under the law. To try to put it simply, it’s not fair that only some citizens can enjoy the benefits of being married under law; if it’s OK for some it must be OK for all, assuming it doesn’t hurt society at large. And let’s don’t get sidetracked on age limits—we already prohibit minors from entering contracts—or possible plural marriages or bigamies, which might be seen to have built-in disincentives and punishments. (Remember the old joke—what’s the penalty for bigamy?  Two wives.)

Think of any given religion as a private club: no one of us is required to join that club but we each have the freedom to do so, and those who do join should be prepared to follow the club’s rules. If one club’s rules prohibit same-sex marriage, that is the club’s prerogative; but the rules of any one club or other are not binding on those of us who didn’t join the club.

The civil law is what’s binding on everyone in the civil arena, and it must be applied equally and fairly to all. The British plan makes it clear that each club/religion retains the right to apply its own rules to its members while inside its clubhouse, but that there is a civil law applicable on the broader scale to the rest of society regardless of the rules inside Club A or Club B.

So, there’s a lot to keep an eye out for on this issue, what with the courts and the lawmakers getting involved. There’s one more front, too, but in this case there’s a possibility that America’s emerging embrace of same-sex marriage, and perhaps of homosexuality in general, could have unintended and disastrous consequences. I refer, of course, to Choire Sicha’s discovery of just how gay marriage could lay waste to the quaint vacation industry:

Yes, America will have to rise up against the menace of bearded gay schoolteacher couples who like to weekend and all those inn-going lesbians with lawyers. With the end of small businesses in America, we’ll just go state-by-state and repeal these gay marriages and everything will be fine. That’s exactly how this will shake out.

Judging news judgment

I boarded this train of thought reading  Ted Koppel’s op/ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post in which he eloquently denounces the cable networks’ proliferation of opinion-as-news programming.  I mostly agree with his complaint that Fox News and MSNBC have given up any pretense of being objective in favor of creating an “idealized reality.”

They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

In this essay Koppel seems to put a lot of the blame on the desire to turn a profit; I find that disturbing.  No one in this argument should be against the idea of the Koppel_11_25companies turning a profit, and Koppel himself has proudly noted in the past that Nightline made a pile of money for ABC, although he says they did so with high standards.  I see that Koppel, in the end, is lamenting the death of any effort at real reporting, the loss of any non-partisan effort to uncover facts that can illuminate the truth.

So last night on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann did what he does: protest perhaps a bit too much about being the subject of criticism and spend a lot of valuable minutes proving points that were never called into question.  Mostly though, he gratuitously blasted Koppel for not having done on “Nightline” what Olbermann believes he does on his program—seek for truth, particularly about the war in Iraq.  (Click on the picture to see the whole commentary; runs something over 12:00.)


Credit where I think credit is due: Olbermann did his damnedest to get America to see the ugly truth about the Bush Administration and the Iraq war, in the spirit of Murrow’s takedown of Joseph McCarthy.  But as he himself has admitted, in a previous incarnation Olbermann squandered an inordinate amount of precious airtime on the Monica Lewinsky “story.”  Nobody’s perfect.

The important issue here is news judgment.  In Olbermann’s examples of Murrow’s reports from London, and when Cronkite made clear the fiasco of Vietnam and the importance of Watergate, their reports were  the result of a collective decision within their organization about what was news: what was important, what had lasting value, what did the audience need to know about.  In Koppel’s examples of the shouting heads on today’s cable network programs, the reports are the result of a collective decision within those organizations about what will grab attention: what is current, what has flash, what does the audience want to hear.

Koppel’s complaints focus on cable programs, not the broadcast networks and their news programs.  I don’t think those guys have any room to crow when it comes to news judgment when you consider their response to news from London of a wedding within the royal family: leading with the story as “breaking news,” dispatching armies of troops immediately to London, and planning major special reports.

Really?  Is there really anything more pointless, or with less real substance or import to our future, than the wedding of British royalty?  What does it say about our news media when we see them drool on themselves at this news?  Personally, I laughed at the headline Unemployed English girl to wed solider from welfare family, but that’s just me.

I’m not completely pessimistic about the future of journalism; I believe there will always be some place to get an honest recitation of what’s gone on, along with some perspective to help me make sense of my world.  But I know that it will not be from the Tribune Company’s TV station here in Houston.

KIAH-TV is moving ahead with a plan developed by the ousted corporate boss Lee Abrams to do away with traditional newscasts altogether.  They need “preditors” to run this new paradigm, and there’s no pretense: the ad says clearly that they aren’t interested in experience or credentials, they value the ability to make noise and grab attention; heat, not light…flash, not value.

And that’s fine, too—it’s their station and they can put whatever they want on their air.  But when it’s about news judgment, we all need to think about who we want to trust.

(Note: the spell-check dictionary didn’t like the word “Olbermann’s”; it recommended “Doberman’s”…I’m just saying.)

(Would you look at that: a post with Prince William, royal wedding, and Monica Lewinsky tags…I should be ashamed.)

Political opportunists exploit Ground Zero, and not in a good way

September 11 is right around the corner, and this year it is likely to spike the hysteria over the planned construction of a community center two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Doesn’t that sound a lot less creepy and threatening than “a mosque at ground zero”?  That’s the gist of the problem.

A Muslim group in New York City wants to build a community center, including space for religious observance, at 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan, a site near the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers stood.  Google the address to see the distance between it and the pit.  There have been complaints from people who find the idea of a mosque at ground zero appalling and insensitive, and in some cases a symbolic victory for the people who carried out the September 11 attacks (and who are, it is true, still at war with the United States and plotting our destruction).  It’s not been made clear (to me) if there are objections to the swimming pool and meeting rooms in the plan, or just that there would be areas for Muslim religious activity.

I don’t follow how building a community center shows insensitivity to the victims of a terrorist or criminal act, unless you blame the builders of the center for the attack.  The man behind the Cordoba House has some questionable beliefs, but no associations with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda.  If the people behind this proposal aren’t directly connected to the 9/11 hijackers, is the objection some sort of guilt by association?  I’d like to believe that association with Islam is not the cause of the opposition, since Islam didn’t attack us—that was done by some people with a perverted interpretation of Islam.  They’re no more representative of Islam than the (insert name of your favorite religious fringe group here) are of Christianity.

People who commandeer passenger jets and use them as missiles deserve our attention.  The last president let his administration turn that attention into fear, and enough of the fear became irrational enough to be exploited as a wedge to grab power and start a war that had nothing to do with finding the people who attacked us, merrily ignoring civil liberties along the way.  It’s not too big a leap to say that irrational fear, and political opportunism, are pumping up the volume in this case.

Charles Krauthammer makes a compelling point about preserving sacred ground, although he doesn’t say how far away would be far enough, and Ross Douthat has an interesting column about how the constitutional America and the cultural America are in conflict on this issue, and I see his point.  But I’m no culture warrior: no one’s made an argument that the proposed construction is illegal, the necessary governmental authorities have approved the plan, neighborhood and business groups approve, we’re not religious bigots…and it’s two blocks down and around the corner, for crying out loud.  Let’s move on.

Want more?  William Saletan does a skillful job taking down the anti-mosque arguments on their face, and their proponents with them.

How about a joke?  This is ridiculously close to a real news item:

The Statue of Liberty was briefly evacuated today after a faulty sensor in an elevator shaft falsely indicated smoke. While there were no immediate reports of injuries, the very idea that someone might build a Muslim community center just across the water from the site of that undamaged sacred ground was compared to a stab in the heart by a bunch of racist yahoos.