Tuesday, June 30, 2009

STbtM 021: Barfight!

Previous: Animal Lovers
The Starfleet cadet friend of Uhura, looming large over Kirk tells him, "Hey, you better mind your manners." Apparently thinking that getting pummeled by Uhura's friends would be more important and fun than spending time alone with her, Kirk ignores her to pick a fight with her friends. Now, this makes sense in the Abramsverse because while Uhura may be gorgeous and intelligent, she's still only a female and to our "hero", simply not worth much time or attention.  So Kirk starts slapping this cadet in the chest and sophomorically trying to insult him with "cupcake". Kirk is supposed to be some super Einstein and this is the best he can do for an insult?

The cadet suggests to Kirk "Maybe you can't count; there are four of us and one of you." Kirk replies "so get some more guys and then maybe it will be an even fight," now slapping the cadet in the face twice, and then in an incredibly stupid move, turns his back on the guy he has just struck! The only thing he's really indicated is that he really wants to get into a fight, and is willing to put more effort into that than into the beautiful language genius he's just met and ostensibly wants. Kirk actually feigns surprise when this guy finally gives him the punch for which he's been begging.

Kirk is knocked to the bar with that hit and turns around to confront his opponent, who throws another punch but without setting his feet or drawing back to strike, Kirk lands a hit right in the sternum of a guy who outweighs him by about 30%. His lightning-quick punch throws the cadet up in the air and away in a backward summersault that reminded me of Kung-Pow: Enter the Fist, when some guy punched a bloody-but-hilarious tunnel through 8 opponents. If a table had not been in the way, that large cadet probably would have done a reverse half flip. That should have broken every bone in Kirk's hand, or striking with the palm, every bone is his wrist. Also, he would have been thrown backward with a speed greater than that of his rapidly receding opponent, if the laws of momentum were operating.

Taking on the other three, Kirk stumbles over and violently gropes Uhura's chest and starts smirking at her, (wannabe rapist?) and takes a TOS saurian brandy bottle to the NECK of one of the cadets in a sweeping slash. In plain language: he has just committed sexual battery against one cadet and attempted to murder another by trying to slit his throat with a deadly weapon. I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why it would be considered valuable to show a hero of space exploration as a perverted, violent would-be rapist & murderer. I tried to find out on the TrekMovie.com forums whether this kind of depiction was troubling to anyone, and my comments and questions were deleted. There was no answer from the admin as to why the objection and related question was deleted, and I could find no one objecting to this, but if others were asking such questions or similarly concerned, perhaps their feedback was expunged as well.

Eventually Kirk winds up on the floor, bleeding and motionless, when the large friend of Uhura picks up the limp Kirk, lifts him onto a table and starts hammering Kirk's face with his fist. Was Kirk motionless because his neck was broken? Had he passed out or been knocked unconscious? Apparently not a single member of the public, the bar security, management, nor a single member of the Starfleet personnel in the crowd were willing to stop the brutal beating (torture?) well on its way to becoming a very public murder that this out-of control cadet was committing, and in front of his friends and what look like senior officers looking on. If this cadet is the kind of moral character the Federation wants representing them to the galaxy, a Starfleet officer should miraculously appear to save Kirk, and encourage him to apply to the Academy.

Miraculously at just the moment to save Kirk's life, a Starfleet captain shows up at the door, whistles, and everyone stops fighting; Kirk's life is saved! It's not just amazing, it's "amazingly amazing!" (Zaphod Beeblebrox)

JJ Abrams is selling what I see as a new, cheaply written, depraved universe for Star Trek. Granted, he's not just selling it for money, but in the words of Lone Star "…for a shitload of money!" This term "depraved" may seem harsh, since the leadership is not actually pulling the trigger on real violence the film idolizes in fantasy form, but it does seem fair to observe that the director and associates are making a mint from producing "don't think, fight" propaganda and directly undermining the noble aspirations for Star Trek.

Overreaction? In the sequence that follows, the film makers remove any doubts viewers might have as Captain Pike explicitly voices support for dangerous, reckless action. I can't help but wonder how closely some version of this worldview is emphasized within Al Qaeda, knowing more than I want to about analogs in Shin Bet, US SOF & many policy makers. In the US military, the conditioning of young men is horrifying as psychological manipulation techniques are used to break down moral values learned from their families. Their strength of personality is weakened through physical exhaustion, sleep interruption and other scientifically designed techniques of indoctrination and they are cut off from any potential contact to civil society that might inhibit them from killing on command, which is practiced to numbness. Recruits are ordered to yell "KILL!" while thrusting knives into human shaped dummies in an effort to overcome the natural, healthy human inhibitions against murder. They are conditioned to respond to the question "What makes the green grass grow?" by yelling "BLOOD!" three times. While Roddenberry's preferred captain was a thoughtful man of peace, Abrams' Kirk is a reckless man of violence, only more advanced than an indoctrinated killer as this foolish sociopathic Kirk needs no encouragement to harm others or himself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Warp Drive Research Qualifications

I recently reviewed a paper by Stefano Finazzi, Stefano Liberati, and Carlos Barceló entitled "Semiclassical instability of dynamical warp drives". It describes an Alcubierre-compatible faster than light (FTL) or 'supraliminal' transportation system, using a distortion of space time to theoretically propel a spacecraft FTL. The authors' knowledge of relevant physics is impressive as is their command of one of the key languages of science: mathematics with which they describe why the Alcubierre drive is not feasible. The speculative research of Michio Kaku is most famous in this arena and similarly based on string theory employed by the authors of this work. Kaku has worked on Alcubierre-compatible FTL ideas in books such as "Physics of the Impossible" and pursues creation of a theory of everything, yet the available evidence suggests that the maturity level of the standard model is insufficient for such efforts to be productive. As acknowledged in the "Quantum Universe Committee Report", a revolution in our understanding of tools and techniques available to physics researchers do not support reliable investigations of topics far beyond conceptual foundations (general relativity, standard model) which are known to have profound problems described as "crisis", based on Thomas Kuhn's description of the state reached by science "as anomalous results build up." In such crises, extending paradigms with known flaws into highly speculative work produces results which are uncertain in the extreme.

A more productive investment is to direct our attention to the key components of successful, transformative paradigms that lead to scientific revolutions of the kind needed. In part, cosmologists ought to be concerned with mechanisms that produce the fundamentals under analysis. Yet as is typical of experiments measurements and calculations relating to fundamental units, the physical existence of units like time, space, and mass remain unquestioningly assumed. This is the type of assumption presenting a primary source of risk to the success of information systems development projects, and both the lack of documentation for the assumption and the failure of progress over the past century indicate it is a likely contributing source. While we may focus on the past 100 years spent trying to resolve the problems of GR and QM, Newton's related objection to "action at a distance" has never been fully addressed in 400 years.

If the Quantum Universe Committee and general consensus in the physics community is correct, the field of project management offers a robust framework for successfully accomplishing this change. We begin by identifying our goal of revolutionary paradigm change. What are these changes exactly? Historical examples help.

In the western tradition, records of argumentation and debate from Greece show rules were being applied without apparently being understood. Two arguments could be presented for opposing positions, but evaluating relative merits was hugely problematic, creating a great deal of unproductive effort characteristic of crises. The key to using language productively for discovery and avoiding errors in the process was Aristotle's model of language use that we now call "logic". What were the steps in creating this model?

  1. Formalization is the first step. This consists of establishing rules for substituting symbols in place of specific language so that we may assess its form of a proposition without necessarily knowing its content.
  2. Process Definition follows, and is the step where Laws of Thought are documented.
  3. Testing propositions against formalized rules and processes with reference to the Laws of Thought.

Without this model, weaknesses in statements conjectures that appear valid often remain hidden. Using the model, one can form syntactically correct language and test it, deduce valid conclusions, and draw inferences. A critically important component of the idea of logic is the degree to which it addresses the relationship between fallible human participants and the object of study.

We may take it as a given that the number of false, misleading, and inaccurate statements for a domain is infinite, while only one statement of a certain type may be accurate. For example, if I have a bowl with a goldfish, the single statement "This bowl contains one goldfish" is true, while statements with any other number of goldfish would be false. Without reliable means to avoid the infinite ways of going astray, the odds against successfully postulating non-trivial propositions are overwhelming and we are left to trial and error for progress.

The combination of logic and observation establishes rationalism. Incorporating experiments as a shortcut to random trial & error to confirm theory predictions and falsify inaccurate ones, rationalism with experimental testing provides the core of modern science. The scientific process enables us to discard poorly formed or expressed concepts early, avoiding years or even centuries of poorly supported effort. Outside the scientific tradition, when great truths were documented, only with luck might one document them well, in a recognizably-formed structure, and perhaps get lucky enough to sort that truth from the piles of scrolls filled with material that is often more attention getting or emotionally appealing. How could we know this particular idea on that particular scroll was significant? The logic model led to a new paradigm for reasoning later called "The Enlightenment" with a paradigm that gave adopters what James Burke called "a mind like a knife", and the scientific revolution.

In trying to understand the representation of concepts and human communications, linguists proposed a dizzying array of grammatical theories across hundreds of different languages and perhaps even more arguments between competing proposals without consistent, clear criteria for objective assessment. Formalization with substituting symbols for specific expressions, definition of processes, and testing whether a proposed grammar is well formed was what Chomsky's Syntactic Structures formalized the rules for substituting symbols for language, defined processes of construction, and developed testing criteria for the abstracted representation of a grammar model. This produced the Chomskyan Revolution. It also focused on the relationship between the linguist and the object of study, perhaps most importantly by addressing what it is possible to know.

In cosmology, the standard model has a number of problems and inconsistencies that have remained since before Einstein, and as Karl Popper described, consistency is one defining feature of stable conceptual structures.

Paradoxically, research to resolve the inconsistencies and establish a revolutionary new paradigm will ultimately recategorize many of the current results and convert members of the community in a shift that parallels religious conversion according to J. Bernard Cohen, and documented for revolutions associated with Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Faraday, Freud, Wegener, and Einstein.

Unfortunately, productive but speculative research to resolve the current crisis in physics in a manner similar to these historical examples is unlikely to be funded for reasons in explained by an article in today's New York Times: that the grants system is a kind of jobs program for established research and that "game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied federal grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue." The Dark Energy Task Force Report seems to internalize this view by stating "In the absence of useful theoretical guidance, observational exploration must be the focus of our efforts to understand what the Universe is made of." In the first place, my grammar teacher would say: "ending sentences with prepositions is something up with which we will not put!" In the second place, I would argue that "In the absence of useful theoretical guidance, establishing the goal of developing viable theories must be the primary focus of our efforts to understand the Universe."

A serious, well-managed effort to successfully create FTL technology shows the greatest promise for delivering such a theoretical framework by facilitating the aligned coordination of diverse specialties which would likely prove impossible absent such a goal. A well managed effort would alert researchers such as Finazzi, Liberati, and Barceló to the opportunities of reinterpreting 4D space time as an observational consequence, perhaps within an abstracted quaternion fractal structure. Our goal ought not to extend unstable, high risk conceptual models into unjustifiably tentative calculation, but rather to work on understanding the characteristics of the inevitable revolution which can guide our thinking and planning now.

Wikipedia Censorship

Execs "believed" accurate info might hurt, according to a New York Times piece, "For seven months, The NYT managed to keep out of the news the fact that one of its reporters, David Rohde, had been kidnapped by the Taliban." Wikipedia, with an allegedly democratic model, was a "difficult" place to suppress important news, according to the article, which wistfully describes how lying to the public "usually meant just a phone call from one editor to another".

Successfully misled that Wikipedia was open, volunteers tried again and again to update the information; only to have it deleted with more lies and deception. The deceivers' good intentions are not at issue, only their choice of focus on potential loss. For example: What risks were taken by these volunteers to provide accurate updates on the Taliban? This may never be known, because Wikipedia admins decided to freeze the page from editing to protect the falsehoods and suppression. How many people suffered to bring the truth to light? We may never know who is killed or tortured, or whose children suffer because the Times and Wikipedia decision. The cynical answer would be "No one who matters."

Perhaps accurate information would raise the ransom demand and perhaps not. Perhaps it would have enabled a rescue or release, and perhaps not. But when we let fear of the action of the ignorant lead us to lie and subvert democracy, (in this case: without evidence), we are following a well established path to despotism. Freedom of the press is the 1st Amendment because without access to reliable information, sound decisions are impossible.

When rich and powerful corporations work to deceive the poor and desperate, it seems particularly offensive.

Also, we should remember that believing in freedom of expression means we support the expression of opinions and ideas that oppose our interests. Any despot, (e.g.: Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, etc.) favors freedom of expression that supports them. If we cannot support expression of those that undermine or attempt to undermine our stance, claims of believing in this right are worthless.

Was suppression of the facts proper in NYT incident; What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 020: Animal Lovers

Previous: Ladies' Night

Young James Kirk is trying to pick up cadet Uhura in an Iowa bar, slobbering: "Doncha wanna at least know my name before ya completely reject me?" She assures him, "I'm fine without it," to which he replies, "You are fine without it. It's Jim, Jim Kirk. (pause) If you don't tell me your name I'm gonna have to make one up." "It's 'Uhura'." With mock incredulity he says, "Uhura! No way, that's the name I was gonna make up for ya. [An OK line, but not that great] Uhura what?" "Just Uhura", she says. "They don't have last names on your world?" "Uhura is my last name." Kirk tries to focus his eyes to point in the same direction before stammering "They don't have first names on your world?" and she start laughing, probably at him rather than with him, since neither his manner nor his attempts at humor are especially amusing.

Sitting at the bar between them is a more human-looking version of Morn from Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine. (Did he ever speak?)

Kirk walks over and starts with "So you're a cadet, you're studying; what's your focus?" "Xenolinguistics, you have no idea what that means," she replies with a low, almost hostile tone. Kirk says: "The study of alien languages, morphology, phonology, syntax. It means you've got a talented tongue." The great-looking Uhura says she's impressed because she briefly thought he "was just a dumb hick who only had sex with farm animals." He considers this for a moment and then delivers his funniest line yet, "Well, not 'only'…" OK, that was good. The only thing tainting this scene is that it continues to show a troubling adolescent chauvinism, portraying women's value primarily as bearers of sons and targets of sexual conquest.

A large male cadet approaches and asks Uhura, "This townie isn't bothering ya, right?" She laughs "Beyond belief, but it's nothing I can't handle." Kirk interjects "You couldn't handle me, that's an invitation…"

Overall, this scene resembles parts of the film when it is at its best: beautiful eye-candy with writing that avoids the catastrophes that fill the rest of the work, but it suffers from lacking a foundation upon anything resembling an attractive moral compass.

Next: Barfight

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 019: Ladies’ Night

Previous: Vulcan Racism

As Spock finishes his interview with the council, we cut to a car driving down a lonely Iowa cornfield with the last flames of dusk dying on the horizon. Without stopping (or slowing) at the crossroads, the car pulls up to a what we discover is a futuristic roadhouse bar. The driver appears to be the Uhura, and we follow her swishing red turtleneck mini dress through the club as she approaches the bar and orders a Clavian Fire Tea, 3 Budweiser® Classics (another shameful product placement), 2 Cardassian Sunrises, and what sounds like a "Slushle Mix" at the bartender's suggestion. Now we see there are women everywhere, but at least they're just functioning as scenery, and ordering drinks. At GirlBar in Hollywood one might see 5 to 1 ratios like this…but in Iowa? OK, it's the future in an alternate universe. The bartender goes to work on her order.

"That's a lot of drinks for one woman" comes from our tipsy future hero James T. Kirk, slumping forward to reveal himself from behind another patron who looks like Michael Dorn with a long face. Uhura looks at him and decides she's going to need "a shot of Jack, straight up." Kirk slurs: "Make that 2, her shot's on me." "Her shot's on her; Thanks but no thanks."

A short scene, but in it we've learned Uhura is in Iowa where Kirk was supposed to have been born in the original timeline, and Earth is aware of not only klingons and vulcans, but also cardassians. Also, we've learned that Kirk has survived a delinquent, destructive adolescence to become a young man who goes to bars alone and drinks too much. While there is no real logical problem with such characterization, the question of the writers' values and dedication to producing good work seems inevitable. This screen time could have been used to portray the triumph of hard work over adversity – which is usually more impressive than apathetic depravity. Perhaps the writer's schedule does not allow for the kind of careful thought a substantial and valuable story requires, and only had time to write the kind of bar fights and chase scenes that Roddenberry so detested as profit-maximizing pandering. Yet, to gain the approval of TV production gatekeepers for making Star Trek, he had to include them. They would not tolerate the intelligent portrayal of a wise hero who avoided violence.

From a larger perspective, this kind of decision makes perfect sense for a country like the United States that was started as a colony for exploitation and profit maximization by the English crown, founded on war against the indigenous population and dedicated to exploitation of the resources for increasing the wealth of the rich. As the inventor of the free market model Adam Smith observed and described: merchants and manufacturers support wars during which they work to ensure "their own interests are most particularly looked after." Media corporations are today's equivalent, and are driven by profit goals to support conflict where velocity of the aggregate money supply is increased. Avoiding violence and war by establishing peace and democratic management reduces profit – so television shows that portray avoiding war and establishing democracy in markets is like kryptonite to US style state-socialized capitalism. Roddenberry had a beautiful dream of something better than those who boast they are "not fans of Star Trek" (e.g.: JJ Abrams), understand.

Next: Animal Lovers

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 018: Vulcan Racism

Previous: Proud Mama

In a great contrast, this segment makes a sharp cut from the warm light of Winona Horowitz's all-too brief close up appearance with a flash to a slanted, rotating and zooming medium shot in sterile cold blue lighting of a large amphitheater. The closely intimate, loving family interaction supported by soft cellos is juxtaposed with ludicrously high benches occupied by 3 stern-looking ministers and harsh silence. The bench is set against a backdrop of severe, angular architecture with the roof beams giving an appearance of cross-hatched cuts of a scalpel across cadaverous sky beyond. The voice of the male head minister echoes through the high-tech judgment cavern: "You have surpassed the expectations of your instructors. Your final record is flawless with one exception; I see that you have applied to Starfleet as well." It seems reasonable to question the characterization of an application to Starfleet as a "flaw". Without attempting to gather any facts, the graduate's reasoning, or considering possible benefits, a supposedly logical senior science administrator is going to make this kind of poorly founded judgment without ANY qualification? Note to writers: "faith" has no doubts, scientific reasoning is ALWAYS tentative. Another point about the environment for the scene: in a matriarchy, one would think that a least ONE woman would be in this auspicious event in a huge auditorium for their top student? Not here. We must remember this is not our fathers' Star Trek! In this new universe of the future, women have some value for providing and caring for children, and as we see later: seducing and sex, but not much else. Roddenberry would not be pleased with these "improvements", nor are most of your viewers, Paramount.

Spock replies diplomatically that "It was logical to cultivate multiple options."

"Logical but unnecessary" declares the minister who we now get to see. Oh my god, it's a vulcan version of Blank Reg from Max Headroom, and one of TNG's most appropriately named decedents: Dr. Graves! Like a klingon prison superintendent he announces, "You are hereby accepted to the penal asteroid of Rura…" - oops, college acid flashback - actually he said: "…to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable Spock, that you have achieved so much despite your disadvantage. All rise!" This makes little sense. A flawless record is truly remarkable on its own. Does not the esteemed minister, his peers, or even Sarek who is married to Spock's mother for decades now, has not a single Mr. Wizard on the council become curious that Spock's unique and exceptional performance accompanies a unique and exceptional parentage? Is this just waved aside as merely an astronomically unlikely friggin' coincidence? The only way this could be explained is by illogical, unreasoning racism against humans, with sexist overtones as an added plus, amazing!

Spock must have been thinking the same thing when he asks: "If you would clarify Minister, to what disadvantage are you referring?"

Of course, the way these vulcans are written to be snide, irrational bigots, we might expect this minister to answer with something like, "Your human mother," which he does. One thing that deserves accolades on the other hand, is the makeup on these vulcan ears: they are a spectacular match for the chosen complexion of the vulcans, but it would be nice if they could look more chlorophyllian alien.

The idea was that vulcan blood contains a hemoglobin analog that utilizes copper within its prophyrin instead of iron. Oxidized iron is red which makes humans tend toward shades of red appearance, whereas copper is green and Tuvok should have been a swarthy shade of pine forest. If there were a way to make the pointed ears appear as translucent as the non-prosthetic part of the actors' ears, it would be even better than the current absolutely stunning job makeup did on the details. Top marks! The vulcan robes are really terrific as well: stoic, elegant and austere - just perfect!

Spock considers the minister and announces he will decline VSA admission, to which the head minister provides a great setup: "No vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy." Spock slams a spike right back with: "Then as I am half human, your record remains untarnished," a brilliant line! At this point, Sarek speaks up: "Spock, you have made a commitment to honor the vulcan way," and Reg/Ira asks "Why did you you come before this council today, was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?"

Here Spock gives another great reply that reminds one of a brilliant jujitsu throw: "The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you ministers for your consideration. Live long and prosper." Well done, if this were in chess, we might end the sentence with "#!!"

Next: Ladies' Night

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 017: Proud Mama!

Previous: Sarek Lies to Young Spock

Amanda, human wife of Sarek and Spock's mother calls with a gentle smile: "Spock, c'mere. Let me see you", to which he says in a now adult voice and with a note of actual fear: "No." What? She's in the same room looking right at him and he's not going to walk over, but rather deny his mother's supportive request like a petulant human child? Quickly, she thinks of a logical rationale more compelling to the vulcan mind, and presents her reasoned justification for his consideration: "Spock," she repeats. Apparently, he has no response for such convincing and eloquent support for her request, so he walks over.

If we take Amanda's repetition as actual advocacy for Spock to meet with his mother, it would be classified as an "Ad nauseam" fallacy. Such arguments are based on the repetition of a single argument, usually ignoring other issues, like objections raised by critics. This tactic deliberately obfuscates in what wikipedia calls one where "logic and rationality is intentionally ignored in favour of preconceived (and ultimately subjective) modes of reasoning and rationality."

We see Spock is now an adult, and mom tells him: "There's no need to be anxious, you'll do fine." Naturally his reply is "I am hardly anxious, mother." One thing that was fabulous in this scene, as in most of film is the musical score: here a monastic chant background gives an ascetic feel appropriate for the vulcan aesthetic, with lighting, cinematography and sets of equally stunning quality. The quality of production is just incredible throughout, if only the story and activities depicted merited the care…

I cannot distinguish what Spock says next, but it sounds like something about "variable definitions" and "I find this unacceptable." In a very affectionate gesture, Spock takes his mother's hands in his own and looks into her eyes, "My I ask a personal query?" "Anything." "Should I choose to complete the vulcan discipline of kolinahr…" (what, is there a saurian version?) "…and purge all emotion, I trust you will not feel it reflects judgment upon you." Amanda bits her lip wistfully with "Oh Spock, as always: whatever you choose to be, you will have a proud mother." A sweet, romantic scene of family love, loyalty and happiness.

Next: Vulcan Racism?

Cosmology for Profit

...or "How Lisa Randall Made a Killing in the Recession"

Grammar Geek: "Too much tax, too many taxes, or too much in taxes" would be correct.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Denethor's Garden Song

Love not bright swords with whetted edge, nor arrows swift in flight,
Love not the warrior's victory, nor triumphant army's might.
Remember the wise, old and weak, children hungry and small,
Protecting each is how seek protection for us all.

Star Trek by the Minute 016

Sarek Lies to Young Spock

Previous: Vulcan Prep Schoos are Elevated Dungeons

The post schoolroom brawl parental conference continues as Sarek advises young Spock on "The control of feelings, so that they do not control you." This was a great addition to the film, and reflects a profound realization made millennia ago by some of the greatest philosophers in both the East and Western traditions. In Buddhism, this realization was based on the observation that sentient beings' unhappiness and suffering were caused by "attachment" to desired objects, states, and outcomes. 2500 years ago, philosophical teachings were presented in a style containing a problem statement, followed by a recommendation.

Buddhism, although is covers a complex diversity of beliefs, is generally accepted to teach "The Four Noble Truths". These include the existence of suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, suffering ends when attachment ends, and that methods exist for sentient beings to eliminate their attachments. This last component is usually called the "Eightfold Path", which are attributes the individual is to develop simultaneously. These include the paths of wisdom, ethical behavior, and concentration. The first of path of wisdom is development of the "right view" which results from a good education. This meshes beautifully with the portrayal of vulcans developing a culture where the education system imparts encyclopedic knowledge to the young.

The western analog to this realization occurred in and around the Aegean, manifested in the teachings of Zeno of Citium in the 4th century BCE, who advocated for "Logic" as a means to avoid deception, "Physics" for understanding nature, and "Ethics" for achieving happiness by living with "Virtue" in harmony with nature. The proximity in time and content of these worldviews was not lost on fellow atheist Roddenberry when he created the vulcans.

Unfortunately, this rich philosophical tradition appears completely unknown to Spock, who responds with the untrue claim, "You suggest that I should be completely vulcan, and yet you married a human." The idea that humans do not seek to govern their emotions and practice logic to avoid deception is incredibly ignorant, even if one were an average vulcan, but this kid lives with his human mother for crying out loud, one who appreciates vulcans and presumably has a clue about the benefits of their core cultural principle: logic. We are asked to believe that after more than a decade of intimate exposure, this genius prodigy hasn't noticed anything of his mother's affinity and capacity for logic? Of course, writing believable characters requires understanding their culture, which appears to have been largely beyond the team. At this point, Sarek might have pointed out that "completely vulcan" is a foolish mirage; that one purpose of education is to provide different ways to view situations and no single view is superior in all situations. Even unconsciousness is necessary for survival. Sarek, if written more with Roddenberry's humanism and affection for vulcans, might discuss the shared aspect of profound emotions shared by vulcans, and humans' ancient traditions of logic.

Apropos of nothing, I am reminded of TNG's episode "Sub Rosa", where Maturin shared with Picard that when he finally visited Scotland on Earth (or perhaps it was the colony designed to recreate it), he felt that he had found his home. This was typical of the unity and solidarity which Roddenberry tried to portray in Star Trek's mix of diverse cultures, peoples, races, and viewpoints. Not so for JJ Abrams & Company® where we can avoid all that icky Kum Ba Yah acceptance and solidarity crap, reinventing a future that is more comfortably sexist, racist and ignorant, where violence is praised as the answer to a fairy-tale style of total demonic evil…you know, the kind that George H.W. Bush believes justifies murdering hundreds of thousands of innocents, torturing others, and lying through his teeth about it. When one has faith in their own "good" and their divine mission fighting pure evil, they can happily lie and go have "fun" and "a great time" on vacations while young men and women who believed the propaganda are dying horribly. Roddenberry was very clear that for the world to eliminate war, faith and religion would have to be left in the past as humanity matured.

Rather than address the myriad problems with Spock's unrealistic and fallacious comment, Sarek explains "As ambassador to earth it is my duty to observe and understand human behavior – marrying your mother was logical." Yet another embarrassing non sequitur from supposedly a highly-intelligent, logical vulcan who is a friggin' DIPLOMAT! Apparently Sarek is lying and "logical" means something different in Abrams' alternate universe than it does here. Considering this non sequitur sufficient, Sarek then jumps forward with, "Spock, you are fully capable of deciding your own destiny." OK, this is ridiculous. Obviously no one gets to "decide" their destiny, because of one small detail: a universe which is not ruled by children's decisions. On what would have been her 80th birthday, we might ask: Did Anne Frank decide her destiny? Did Nero? Did all the Romulans? What about all the Vulcans Nero slaughters later? Overlooking that minor detail, Sarek's statement makes no sense regarding Spock's capability because of another detail: Spock is still a child, in school for the purpose of developing his capabilities for responsibility, but "fully capable" now? …and saying this to a kid who isn't even capable to wipe off a bloody lip? C'mon guys, do you even proofread these scripts?!

Sarek now appears unable to distinguish between destination and journey as he follows this with "The question you face is: Which path will you choose?" Perhaps this was intended to sound profound, but it shames a movie already reeking of nonsensical contrivance in order to obtain, as far as one can tell, not a single benefit for the story, other than to make the writers' job easier, quicker, and cheaper. As I recall, the "which path" line is echoed by a Starfleet officer to James Kirk after a brawl later in the film - and one would guess there was supposed to be some story-telling benefit to the very unlikely recitation by an older male to a younger male just after a convenient fight scene, before they both happen to conveniently land on the Enterprise together from many light years apart. In Abrams' Star Trek, miracles never cease!

Finally, Sarek says: "This (path in life) is something only you can decide." Really this decision is "only" Spock's? That would imply no assistance or influence on his decision is available - which is quite an unsubstantiated claim! Getting an education is designed to provide assistance in making decisions based on a foundation of awareness. In other words: vulcans value reliable approaches to knowledge sufficiently that they go to extreme lengths to collectively aid youngsters in building strong, healthy minds. The Greeks considered emotions to be the horses that power the chariot of life, but a sharp-eyed driver of conscious choice had to hold the reins and decide the course to avoid endangering oneself and others.

The scene fades to black, and then to the silhouette of Amanda, Spock's mother beckoning to him.

Next: Proud Mama!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 015

An Emotional Response

Previous: Vulcan Prep Schools are Elevated Dungeons

Young Spock approaches a group of older bullies he "presumed" were determined to try a new set of insults. Spock says: "This is your thirty-fifth attempt to elicit an emotional response from me." "You are neither human nor vulcan, and therefore have no place in this universe." Anyone schooled in the most basic attributes of logic will recognize this proposition is a non-sequitur, uses an undefined term, is factually inaccurate and appears prejudicially racist. Whether or not Spock is X or Y species has no bearing on "having a place in the universe" which in turn, is undefined and a poor excuse for an insult with any intellectual strength. "Neither human nor vulcan" appears both factually incorrect, and commits the fallacy of the false dilemma by excluding the obvious middle possibility. The racism of the comment coming from a member of what was proposed as a noble and serene alien race of Stoics. In some given conditions, Spock could very well be a superior hybrid in some ways.

The lead bully starts shoving Spock and asserts: "He's a traitor you know, your father… for marrying her, that human whore." Spock then decides that he should share that in fact it is possible to evoke an emotional response from him, and that it would be "morally praiseworthy, but not morally obligatory" to provide empirical results to assist this inquisitive fellow scholar's quest for greater knowledge and enlightenment. In other words, he yells and leaps on his tormenter like a pint-sized Nero (with ears instead of tats), pushes the bully into one of the test pods, and starts pounding the kid's head. The older student's gratitude for this educational opportunity and to have his curiosity satisfied so concretely must have been profound!

We see Sarek approaching young Spock with the rosy lips with a dribble of green food coloring. "They called you a traitor". Apparently, the insult to his mother was not worth mentioning, since she is merely a woman – probably on a level with Kirk's mother, you know… down there somewhere in the grand scheme, one might guess if one wanted to waste one's time for some reason. At this point, Sarek replies, "Emotions run deep within our race, in many ways more deeply than in humans. Logic offers a serenity humans seldom experience." This hints at Epictetus, the sage of self-reliance who advised us to "control our passions" to prevent them "from taking vengeance on us", and that "only the educated are free."

Next: Sarek Lies to Young Spock

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 014

Vulcan Prep Schools are Elevated Dungeons

Previous: Ban High-Speed Chases

In a gorgeous shot typical of the space CGI that almost makes me wish for a chance to have seen this in a theater, we wheel above the red planet Vulcan, then get a sweeping homage to the home of the negative magnetic corridor, Mintakans, and where the Gorn love to play – so popular, even Xyrillian holodeck programmers reproduce it!

Top marks to the creative designers of the stalactite buildings suspended from giant overhangs: totally impractical but totally cool looking! Unfortunately, they went for a blue sky – which I don't think holds a candle to TOS' psychedelic red pon farr background, but that's a minor and subjective quibble. Inside the stalactite and standing in a large video bowl, one young Vulcan recites the formula for the volume of a sphere: (4/3)π*r3. We zoom out to see many such video bowls and hear a variety of technobabble as adults pace the darkness above the students, but within the conversations, some real gems emerge: like the formula for dimensionality, a core idea in fractal geometry.

After 1977, when Benoit Mandelbrot published "Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension" it was rumored so insulting to mathematicians that his employer IBM, eventually bought all the remaining copies and aided the writing of "The Fractal Geometry of Nature" in order to reduce some of the damage, although from my recollection, it still had a few barbs leaning toward an effect like "Before I, the great BM, none of these mathematicians truly understood the importance of their own work" Still, it was a great work as I recall. His idea was that nature does not completely fill space as we prefer to represent on paper with lines, squares, and cubes. He suggested that a measure could be derived from a fractional exponent as is explained here. It is my belief that we will need a generative, fractal model of space-time as an observational consequence before reliable theories of faster than light transportation like a warp drive can plausibly be developed.

"Non-excludability and non-rivalry" are mentioned by another student. In Jeopardy, the question that would win us $500 would be "What are the defining attributes of public goods?" The next quiz response we hear is: "That which is morally praiseworthy but not morally obligatory", which is a fancy way of saying doing something admirable, and in a nice juxtaposition, we cut to a gang of older vulcan boys calling "Spock!" to which our future friend replies: "I assume you have prepared new insults for today?" "Affirmative" is the pointy-eared Malfoy's response, complete with robed Crabb and Goyle henchmen. It would have been an improvement to have some consistency between the color of the vulcans skin, especially lips, and the color of their blood.

Next: An Emotional Response

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 013

Ban High-Speed Chases

Previous: Senseless Destruction of Priceless Cultural Artifacts is Fun

Pubescent James T. Kirk is driving dangerously fast to escape a cop on a flying motorcycle. With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the cop tears after the youngster. Apparently, people in the future have forgotten how many cops, innocent bystanders, and fleeing drivers are killed by high-speed pursuits (HSPs). We will examine this from a Vulcan perspective using logic and reason to guide development of sensible decisions.

In such developments, we look at questions of fact, issues of knowledge, and values. Proponents for HSP claim chasing a murderer is justified to protect the community and further: anyone who decides to flee should be presumed guilty of something more serious and they are responsible for the consequences of that choice. Also, it is held that limiting HSPs assists criminals in escaping law enforcement. Opponents claim that fleeing is usually irrational and causes unjustified harm. Like most longstanding debates, all opinions have some merit. If the primary goal of law enforcement is public safety and to promote justice, formulating some reasonable methods to achieve this is possible based on the principle of harm reduction.

In the United States, some data collected by the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department supports as many as 2,500 people die and 55,000 are maimed, crippled, blinded, etc. every year as a result of HSPs. Many who flee cannot give any reason and are baffled as to their flight, but those who can offer some justification cite having beer in the car, expired licenses, or as with young Kirk: using a car against the owner's wishes, usually a friend or relative. No doubt, some murderers flee rationally and to apprehend them HSPs are required, which is generally acknowledged as justified. A concern here is whether the public and the police should risk life and limb for a murderer, who is not a serial killer and will never kill again. In this case, I tend to oppose even imprisoning the perp, because it spends resources but does not produce any benefit like reducing harm unless we ascribe to a "make others think twice" justification of terrorism.

Let's guess and estimate relevant numbers starting with about 250,000 HSPs per year, 5% of these HSPs involving violent (rape/murder) criminals, of those, and 33% of them will be repeat offenders who need to be stopped. The highest conviction rate for violent crime found was for murder, at almost 12%, so with rounding up, we can expect HSPs to prevent almost 500 murders & rapes. Would a reasonable person judge the attempt to prevent of 500 horrible and violent crimes worth causing 50,000 accidental, but avoidable tragedies? This is difficult to justify, even taking into account profound inaccuracies of the model. Add the cost of paying for HSPs themselves and add somewhere between 42,500 and 112,500 instances of resulting property damage (17% - 45% of HSPs) annually, and the ability to justify HSPs becomes extremely challenging. I think our desire to catch and punish criminals immediately is evolutionarily based and we realize that deliberate crimes are more objectionable that accidents, so these 500 weigh heavily on our emotions, especially anger. We are driven to "educate" transgressors even when punishing comes at a great cost. Studies on this show the importance to our species survival of enforcing social norms.

Like many real world HSPs, the Kirk chase sees risks to safety and destruction of property for dubious benefits. This was a lazy method to insert a scene of youthful rebellion without taking the time to think deeply. If he were tall enough to see over the hood, Kirk could have easily been decapitated when crashing through a metal gate, and the cop could have been killed by the flying debris. Kirk accelerates to a gigantic cliff (not in Iowa) and leaps from the car due to a convenient suspension of the laws of momentum. The priceless 3 century old Corvette slides over the cliff ahead of him, and despite the appearance he is dragged by a cable, we are to believe that he slides to the edge of a cliff where despite the appearance he is hung by a climbing harness, we are to believe he miraculously caught himself by his fingernails. Clearly no climbers (or physicists) were consulted when this silliness was written and the stunts were planned.

I do have to say that I really wanted to laugh when Kirk climbs up from certain death, looks at the cop walking toward him and asks: "Is there a problem officer?"

Next: Vulcan Prep Schools are Elevated Dungeons

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 012

Senseless Destruction of Priceless Cultural Artifacts is Fun

Previous: Grand Theft Auto, Pubescent Trekstyle

This segment opens with the wicked step-father ranting over the cell phone to our delinquent hero joy-riding in a priceless 1965 Chevrolet Corvette C2 convertible roadster. In 2235, this car would be a 270 year old world cultural treasure. The rant continues with "You get your ass back home now! You live in my house buddy, you live in my house and that is my car. You get one scratch on that car and I'm gonna whip your ass." Clearly, this is the pubescent James Kirk, who again takes his eyes off the road at high speed to fiddle with the electronic controls on a Nokia® Iphone® wannabe. He actually ducks into the teakwood steering wheel (a $48 option in those days) to reach controls considered unsafe for drivers today, to hang up the phone and crank some rap.

Now some nitpickers would ask: why bring up a playlist on the screen and then start blaring music if no tracks or actions have been selected? Such people clearly don't understand corporate bribery… (ahem) Excuse me please - I mean to say: "product placement partnerships". A blast of the rap intro accompanies Kirk reaching up to release the shiny convertible roof locks, and the top goes sailing away. Apparently, despite decades of experience designing and testing to prevent this well known danger, neither the forward safety catches nor the boot fasteners offered any resistance to dramatic takeoff for the convertible soft top, which lands on the pavement as Kirk the Wildman screams with the lead singer of the Beastie Boys and heroically tears down the road at breakneck speed. We see a young hitchhiker with a book backpack walking along the road, and Kirk starts honking, and yells "Hey Tony!" It seems they are not friends, since Kirk doesn't give Tony a lift and appears to want to show up this somewhat older adolescent.

A policeman appears on a flying motorcycle, pulls up to Kirk and directs him to "Pull over." Kirk then skids off the main paved street to an unpaved side road, and the cop makes a cool aerial bank to follow. In an interview, JJ Abrams declared that the purpose of this scene was to show Kirk as a renegade. Not sure of exactly what his message was, I looked up "renegade" and found "outlaw", and "a disloyal person who betrays or deserts his cause or religion or political party or friend etc." JJ Abrams wanted to heroically portray not just illegal behavior, but perhaps actual disloyalty and betrayal? As a former corporate consultant with decades of experience, I realize that such treachery in service of the organization is how one most quickly earns trust and approval from superiors but this criticism should not be taken as an indictment of capitalism. The mafia, gangs, political parties and most other authority hierarchies have this defect simply as a result of hierarchial power and the fact that people make mistakes. However, I'm astounded to see this hallmark of totalitarianism so openly advocated in interviews and portrayed as admirable on the big screen. In the context of a character endangering himself and others while gleefully stealing and destroying other peoples work and most prized possessions? Amazing... JJ has some real chutzpah. He certainly has "reinvented" the optimism and morality of Roddenberry who, regardless of Savik's cuteness cannot be envisioned pairing Kirk or Picard (the captain Gene wanted) with lyrics like "So while you sit back and wonder why, I got this fucking thorn in my side, Oh my - It's a mirage, I'm telling y'all it's a sabotage". For some reason, I was reminded of Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30 saying: "we need to remember what used to be good because if we don't, we won't recognize it even if it hits us between the eyes". In JJ's words: "This is not your father's Star Trek!" No indeed JJ, what you created is not based in the old virtues of the past of honesty, patience, intelligence, wisdom, and empathy. As the "old" Spock said to McCoy: "Remember."

Next: Ban High-Speed Chases

Monday, June 15, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 011

Grand Theft Auto, Pubescent Trekstyle

Previous: Shuttles Escape

Lens flare mania continues with a Sparticus-worthy title screen, during which we have a few seconds to contemplate the birth of James Kirk, which was previously in Iowa. I would love to ask the writers why they felt it necessary to change his birthplace, and if so, why write a cause for that change via an alternate timeline with an event (the Romulan ship time-travel) that appears AFTER a time when it would cause Mr. and Mrs. Kirk to be on a deep space mission not only far from Earth, but far from any assistance on the extreme edge of Federation space? My guess is that Kirk's birth was an afterthought to the basic plot, and as seen in The Undiscovered Country shows what a disaster this type of change can be for the entire story. This calls to mind a real space disaster that had a similar cause, illustrating an important point in change management and quality control: regression testing.

Regression testing is normally associated with software changes, but many complex systems can benefit from this technique while failure to conduct regression testing caused a failure that had the world holding its collective breath for days. A manufacturer contributing to NASA on the Apollo program had improved an electric motor used to stir the contents of a high-pressure oxygen tank. The changes to the new motor were not considered significant and the expense of rebuilding a new prototype and conducting integration testing was never even considered. It turned out that a design upgrade on the motor made it unsafe for use in high-pressure oxygen, a factor which burned the Apollo 1 crew alive on the launch pad during a routine test. On Apollo 13, when the fan was activated, the tank exploded and the crew nearly died. In an earlier segment, we learned from Gemini 8 not to abandon potential resources such as the Kelvin, and it was following that rule which saved the Apollo 13 crew. Here, I believe many of the gigantic plot errors were due to poor planning in early stages. In this specific case, the Mrs. Kirk would have to be in Iowa, preparing to deliver when the Romulan ship appeared, and began the alternate time line. The story is broken, AGAIN – and we are only 10 minutes into it! I'm absolutely baffled at the poor quality of the script.

Back in the theater, we cut to a classic muscle car tearing down a dirt road and sliding into a turn onto a paved road in a flat sea of Iowa cornfield. We zoom in on the red Corvette convertible pod-racer being driven with Dakar-veteran skill by a pubescent, straw haired boy blasting corporate music I'm sure was triple-checked by the marketing department for coolness. Barely able to see over the dash, the bucktoothed reincarnation of Anakin does one better: he can drive with world-class performance regardless of steering wheel movement or watching the road! We hear a centuries-old cell phone ring from the prominently branded NOKIA® phone mounted low on the dash. Aside from the corporate rape of the Trekverse by ramming this phone where it has no business, we are apparently to believe lawyers in the future have lost the ability to prevent installation of driver distractions that have been killing people for decades. Next thing you know, these corporate geniuses will decide to portray to millions that senseless destruction of priceless cultural artifacts and museum pieces is fun, cool, and heroic.

The kid touches the phone and we hear a man's voice ranting: "Hey, are you outta your mind? That car's an antique! You think you can get away with this just because your mother's off-planet? You live in my house buddy." Recycled evil step-parent stale by the Middle Ages, or homage to beloved Grimm classic characters? You decide!

Up next: Senseless Destruction of Priceless Cultural Artifacts is Fun

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 010

Shuttles' Escape

Previous: Family Chat of Destruction

This segment opens on the conversation between George Kirk and his wife, as he gapes his way to suicide aboard the Kelvin with some conversation about the sex of their new baby and choosing a name. The wife declares "He's beautiful – you should be here…" The latter is obvious to anyone with half a brain, but Kirk remains mesmerized by the computer countdown visuals and audio announcements of the impending "impact". Granted, the super high definition wrap around viewscreen on the Kelvin Bridge is amazing, and might tempt a true video addict to neglect those things like spending time with the wife and kids. The computer has inexplicably recategorized the intersection of the Kelvin's locked in flight path with the conveniently stable Romulan ship. Previously, it was a "collision", now it's an "impact", so apparently even the computer has realized that this is not a contest of equals. We might think of it more like the Kayuga impacting on the moon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJmT3dPbwHE

George asks "What're we gonna call him?" to which his still-unnamed wife suggests, "We can name him after your father." They eventually settle on "Jim" after her father. Is it me, or is this a bit sexist? We have now named male characters that aren't even on screen – possibly no longer alive – while the wife, mother, and a main character is still unnamed?

The external shot of the burning Kelvin zooming through the tentacles of the Romulan ship is really fantastic! But at this point, Kirk has become a terrorist suicide bomber, attempting to destroy Romulans who have been helpless for some time. One gets the feeling that the film was made by people who, like many in the U.S. love to worship war – although in detailed participation their enthusiasm would probably be reduced. As is always portrayed by such people, our side is angelically good, and the enemy is depraved beyond redemption. This raises a favorable comparison I read between this film and X-Men. Since learning about the X-Men from my college room-mate, I was impressed that the characters all had believable reasons for what they were doing. In the first movie, Magneto presented a well thought out argument for mutant separatism and militancy based on clear, increasing anti-mutant repression, aggression, and terror. This intelligent, believable enemy enabled Professor Xavier to make the intelligent argument for compassion and seeking peace. The complex interplay between them explored real issues of the human condition that require a sense of self-doubt, humility, and care. These are how we achieve progress – not by emotional outbursts. This was part of what I read as Roddenberry's intention with the Vulcan culture: embodiment of the magnificent Stoic tradition which sought to eliminate errors in judgment that give rise to destructive emotions. Logic was a tool for achieving this result and this great tradition was crushed by Justinian who felt this compassionate, peaceful philosophy threatened Christianity. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism

Back in the future, Kirk completes his senseless kamikaze run, professing his love for his wife while romantitragic music swells. The now single-parent Ms. Kirk looks out the shuttle window to watch the explosions of the Kelvin against the enemy ship. The conversation that just ended had been on an a speakerphone arrangement where anyone nearby could hear and respond. I'm no medical or psychological expert, but if a newly single mom had just delivered while watching her survivally-challenged mate kill himself, and she were in my care, I might want to put a hand on her shoulder and show some comfort and support. Perhaps I would want to make sure she was not adversely affected by all the "excitement"? Wouldn't basic bedside manner include, I don't know, something like LOOKING at the patient? Not here: instead ALL the medical technicians ignore her, facing away in order to play Tetris or something on little computer panels. Those wacky Starfleet medical personnel!

In the external shot, we see debris from the collision as the shuttles safely make their way toward rescue at Starfleet's FTB station.

Next: GTA, Pubescent Trekstyle

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 009

Family Chat of Destruction
Our scene continues the battle, bravely insane Captain George Kirk has stayed at the helm of the miraculously repaired Kelvin, which we are asked to believe can present a threat to a heavily armed Romulan behemoth from 2 centuries in the future when it is unable to keep its own crew from being spaced…OK, we'll just get a ladder to overlook that, and next we're asked to believe that one person can run sensors, navigation, coordinate emergency evacuation, helm, tactical, engineering, and we will just ignore the huge amount of damage control just to keep life support. 
Apparently, the film makers didn't think this was dramatic enough, as they have our hero picking off TORPEDOES with phaser fire. This helmsman would have to be the best than any we've ever seen in 40 years of the Trekverse, but with a crane, we can overlook that. Recall that these torpedoes also split into multiple warheads as I think we first saw in Next Generation, so that makes it even more amazing. Still not fantastic enough? "Perhaps," the writers may have thought, "we should add more – like make his shooting performance absolutely inerrant, perfect accuracy on EVERY shot, yeah, that will really be cool!" and it ended up as what we see. Wouldn't this magical ability to hit torpedos have come in handy when the ship was undamaged, at fully-staffed red-alert battle stations, and able to tap the massive energy available from its ginormous warp engine(s) to AVOID horrible deaths? Now, even overlooking these Himalayan piles of impossibilities and contradictions, wouldn't we still expect better performance when our equipment isn't exploding on, over, and around us? My Wing Commander and FreeSpace results were much improved by the absence of mag flares & extinguisher blasts, Q-Zar arenas notwithstanding.
OK, I just had to find out who put their name on this script! Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman were the writers according to http://www.imdb.com/. They've announced their "working" on the sequel – AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!!
Back on the Kelvin Bridge, the weapons show offline, shields at critical, and Kirk sets a collision course with the Romulan, jumps back into the Captain's chair, while the computer reports the course locked and engaged. We see the computer has fired up the big blue thruster nozzle at the stern of the warp engine nacelle. Problem: there is no exhaust on warp nacelles; they generate energy for big stuff like creating a subspace envelope, holding up shields, and powering weapons, don't they? Impulse engines, however, do have exhaust, and we see their red glow increase in the correct location astern the saucer as the ship inches ahead. At this point, there is nothing more for the skipper to actually do on board: he has manually locked on course and the engines are presumably at full for ramming the Romulan. If there was ever a good time to leave, this is it.
Instead, Kirk decides to watch the screen until a one-minute timer counting down the seconds until the Kelvin collides with the Romulan ship, and he dies – unless he does something. The tension is palpable and you could almost hear a lens flare when suddenly, Kirk jumps up and runs to an escape pod! No, just kidding! He sits there and watches the timer run out on his life. Fortunately, his boredom is interrupted by the cry of a baby over the communications channel, which you would think might motivate the new dad to… well, survive or something. Nah! He sits around while the baby is cleaned, wrapped, and we see his wife accept her bundle of joy with wide eyes. Truly, if a med tech was able to hand me a hairy one month old that magically switched to a bald newborn in the next shot, my eyes would be pretty wide as well.
In this scene, I thought surely George Kirk would do something other than waste his subspace minutes in silence, and he relaxes in his suicide seat and asks: "What is it?" The new Mommy should have replied: "I don't know, but it's got a moron for a father." Instead we have learned that this Kirk family exudes the film makers' preference for the nobility of proud ignorance over crass education. Why endure all that hard work to obtain "knowledge" when the "belief" like a child is so much better and easier? And what about the huge Romulan death ship armed to the teeth that had ripped apart the Kelvin in a couple of seconds and threatens annihilation? They all seem to have gone asleep over there. It's a miracle!
Apparently, we are to believe that Nero was so concerned about a medical shuttle escaping that he targeted it as a higher priority that the Kelvin which was firing at him. Now, Nero's opponent is attempting to ram his ship. Did you see that Austin Powers movie where someone was being run over by a really slow steamroller that allowed the person (frozen in fear) to stand directly in its path and scream over and over? This scene was much like that, but I can't really tell which was longer, but I am certain the AP team were aware this plot device was ridiculous. I'm just baffled how the idea made it through production with George Kirk's death serving no purpose and rather than doing ANYTHING, it was considered preferable to have the character merely sit there chatting, while nuking my sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast omelet takes less time! Surely the bridge boat, a space suit, or something could at least have been tried rather than this senseless tragedy. Nero is equally suicidal, insane, and equally unbelievable, taking no action whatsoever to protect himself, his ship, crew, and avenge the loss of his world – given later as the alleged primary motivation for his attack. Apparently not a single member among his officers or crew decided that the collision alarms that had to be going off were worth any attention either, as the Romulan ship held its stationary position directly in the path of the Kelvin with no attempt to prevent being rammed and perhaps, all killed.
Next time: Shuttles' Escape

Friday, June 12, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 008 - Delivering Shuttles

As this segment begins, Kirk is on communications to his partner's medical shuttle with: "Captain to Shuttle 37. Is my wife onboard?" Well, we know they are paired because the camera has been following them, (and now we know they are also married), but how much of this is known by random crew hanging out in the lower decks struggling to keep from getting burned alive and blown out of hull breaches? Did someone inform everyone aboard that this helmsman is promoted to skipper? Does everyone aboard know his name and family status? I suppose if the Kelvin's crew complement were about 100 and they had been together for some time, this is perhaps plausible. Why? Through our evolutionary past, we humans have a conceptual capacity to handle about 100 individuals and the resulting 5000 or so possible relationships. If you'd like to see the math behind this, watch this PowerPoint presentation about communications management. As a typical guy, it seems plausible Kirk could have had trouble remembering her name – you know how often we forget to do the little things…

The guy answering for the shuttle responds "Yes sir, she is." Kirk orders the shuttle: "Take off immediately. That's an order." At this point, it appears Kirk has decided to kill himself when he tells his wife: "Sweetheart, listen to me, I'm not going to be there." Assuring her against all evidence, "This is the only way you'll survive." Mrs. Kirk enlightens him with what can only be chalked up to drug-induced non sequitur that "But you're still on the ship - you have to be here."
Apparently the writers decided to give up any pretense of a story driven by characters, and just had Kirk announce: "The shuttles will never make it if I'm not here to fight them off." OK, this is absolutely ridiculous in more ways than there is time to detail, but in brief:
  1. The Kelvin is a non-salvageable wreck incapable of life-support, much less fighting.
  2. Even if the ship miraculously fixed itself while everyone evacuated, there is insufficient crew for combat operations.
  3. Given miraculous repairs and miraculous crew replacement, the weaponry of the Kelvin is useless against their enemy, as one would expect dealing with a hostile from more than a century in the future.
  4. The situation is not one where "fight them off" is anywhere near a possibility.
  5. In a best case scenario, the Kelvin could only hope to present an obstacle to the Romulans equal to that presented by a tiny, slow-moving asteroid.
  6. Whether the shuttles "make it" does not depend on Kirk's presence, in any scenario…even assuming a series of magical interventions.
None of these impossibilities matter as we now have Mrs. Kirk screaming in delivery and we see an internal view of, if you can believe this: shuttles traveling down the "launch canal"! This was arguably one of the funniest sight gags I've seen in film in quite a while. Someone in the editing room pulled off a hilarious move here…reminiscent of Fellini's railway romance love scene fading to a view of the firm and throbbing locomotive thrusting powerfully into the subterranean tunnel. The shuttle humor is completely inappropriate for what is supposed to be going on with what we will call here "the story" but one has to laugh.
The juxtaposition and interplay of awe-inspiring genius with style, appearance, and presentation in this film against hideously incompetent ignorance and apathy is fascinating… A beautiful calamity…
Hey wait! Notice that Mrs. Kirk evacuated without her shoes? Apparently, one of these was that port key boot on the hill – and look who arrives: its the graduating class of Hogwarts wearing invisibility cloaks! They are staffing all combat stations! Mrs Weasley has knitted a new warp drive with a tweed wheel upon which Scabbers is running furiously – and dozens of phasers come online. Neville (still cloaked) operates the sensors as Kirk takes tactical "alone", picking off torpedoes that have been conveniently slowed to sub-warp by Hermione's work aboard the Romulan ship, where Robau's eyeliner pencil was discovered to be another port key. The dementors she brought despair the evil Romulan captain and crew beyond even the will to monologue…as we see in our next exciting, wacky episode: "Star Trek by the Minute 009: Family Chat of Destruction"!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 007

Previous: STbtM 006

As this segment opens, commandos in skin-tight black with black ropes are rappelling down an area that looks possibly like engineering, as pyrotechnics are going off with sparks, flames, and lots of people running around for the evacuation. I'm guessing the assault of the spandex ninjas was thrown in because it looked cool, but one would think that some of the running to shuttles would have been done 4 minutes ago when Robau had ordered the crew to prep for evacuation. That order means: immediately get your emergency gear and report to your boat station. Shouldn't young, fully-qualified Starfleet personnel in the 23rd century be able to perform as well as drunken retirees in the 20th on a Carnival cruise? That said, the craziness looks good, even if insultingly nonsensical.

There's lots of yelling about and wild running through sets that really look primitive, like the inside a refinery, i.e.: gritty. Fortunately, the stunt men running the catwalks are evenly spaced, presumably so that if one falls or has a problem during the shot, the next guy can avoid injuring him. This is why whenever it is possible, we don't allow running in emergency situations where there are lots of people, questionable footing, etc. One might think young, healthy, fully-qualified Starfleet personnel in the 23rd century should be able to perform as well as stoned high-school life guards at a Des Moines pool 30 years ago? Um…based on what I hear ;)

The pregnant woman flips open a communicator and says "George". This has to be the best voice-activated dialing ever, since the skipper is answering before she even is done speaking his name, although perhaps he called her. In an earlier segment, I mentioned that Kirk was at least a shade better than Robau because although they both froze during moments requiring leadership, at least Kirk didn't start talking about God. Kirk says, "You're all right – Thank God!" First, the only thing he possibly knows is that she is capable of speaking one syllable. Is she trapped? Is she dying? She could be struggling to say: "George - I'm crushed in an pressure hatch...I love you." He has no clue - and just starts telling her what her situation is. Is his comment an attempt to reassure her? One ordinarily expects to have a cornflake of information before dictating to other about their situations – but it seems such considerations were not a priority for these characters/writers. Perhaps Kirk thought she might have died already, and was comforting himself aloud. Second, "Thank God?" If everyone aboard dies in the emergency shall we thank an invisible friend because more ships weren't lost? Perhaps the creators of the film felt that thanking occult spirits is always a good idea. Some people in our century believe when someone dies horribly, parts of brain activity are magically reassembled in an invisible universe where neurons are not required & conscious cognitive processes operate without energy or matter. Its like a candle that goes out, but saying the burning is reproduced forever in an invisible dimension without candles, flame, oxygen, etc., and is completely invisible, i.e: without heat, light, etc. Socially powerful delusions are risky for our species' long-term survival and as such, we might hope future cultures will do better. In fact doing better now may be needed for those future generations to exist at all.

Kirk directs the woman to shuttle 37, and tells her: "I'm on my way." At this point, he decides to actually follow an order and use the autopilot – intending to ram the enemy ship, but the autopilot is not working. We infer ramming was Robau's intent in his final orders to Kirk, although the tactic is questionable not only for reasons discussed earlier, but also because there's little expectation of success. Without any provision to detonate the ship's antimatter, why would the Romulan vessel incur any damage at all? It could warp away. It could creep away at impulse and vastly outpace its wrecked opponent. It could entirely destroy the Kelvin – or merely hold it in place with a tractor beam and phaser it into a big bust of Chairman Koval if Captain Nero was so inclined. Any of these options would still allow Nero to pick off all the shuttles if he so chose, so the plan makes little sense. It also violates one of the things learned during a Gemini mission in which Neil Armstrong was in command. The principle learned is: In space, don't abandon any potentially usable resources if you can help it. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea on the ground either.
The Gemini 8 mission objectives were to dock with a target vehicle, the "Agena", and perform a spacewalk. While docked, a thruster malfunctioned aboard the command crew's capsule and the spacecraft started rolling. Hoping it might correct the problem, they detached from the target vehicle only to discover their rate of spin continued to increase - meaning the defect was on their capsule. Without the mass of the Agena, the rate of roll increased more rapidly and they they had just abandoned the increased stability and fuel resources on the Agena. While the specific thruster that malfunctioned was identified and the crew returned safely, there was a real danger they could have been lost after the uncoupling. Preserving options in the face of uncertainty is an important principle of crisis management. From this narrow escape which could have easily cost the lives of 2, (including Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon), NASA people learned to avoid making guesses which might worsen the situation.

Meanwhile, Kirk's still-unnamed partner is whisked via wheelchair through a series of safely-timed explosions toward her shuttle. As a mere woman, perhaps it is felt her character needs no name. She yells periodically during the evacuation to dramatize her contractions, following the "screaming labor" delivery that seems a staple in the film industry. I don't understand why film makers choose to add a bit of biased drama at the expense of terrorizing younger audience members by this type of portrayal – perhaps they feel that a natural human feeling of profound awe and wonder at a birth lacks something. Unfortunately what seems more likely is that they lack or at least are insensitive such feelings, or they may feel their audience is insensitive to them. Neither option feels particularly uplifting...
Next: STbtM 008

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 006

Previous: STbtM 005 
We are on the bridge of the evil ship, Capt. Robau answers his captor's question with: "I am unfamiliar with Ambassador Spock." OK, while it may be true, it is unhelpful and an incredibly stupid response that we would not accept from a 19 year old intern answering phones for two-bit software firms in the year 2009, yet this dialogue is supposed to be coming from a ship captain? Did I mention this is not the skipper of a Pentaran mining shuttle? This command sits in the big chair for a top-of-the-line starship on a deep space exploration mission, in a future with what we hope is a passable education system. As might have been said in a performance review feedback for corrective action: "The correct response, Captain Robau, is to offer to assistance in finding the information or a resource that can provide an answer if there is one, or offer assistance in formulating options if there an answer is unavailable. Is that clear?"

For no reason, the Romulan then asks: "What is the current stardate?" which is beyond explanation. Did the Romulans suddenly decide to ignore their quest for vengeance against Spock? If they did have a major update to their information, they must realize they reappeard from a black hole (ridiculous) far in time and space from when they entered. If they wanted confirmation of their time and location requesting information about Spock and his ship make no sense. Robau replies: "Stardate? 2233.04. Where are you from?" Captain Nero decides he's had enough chatter via his intermediary and opens the cool switchblade tip on his spear, howls, and leaps toward the Captain - apparently Robau got the point. J

Now, as I recall from my single, torturous viewing, Nero went back in time and was after Spock because Romulus had been destroyed. Let's put ourselves in this situation: we've seen a horrible disaster like this, after which something inexplicable occurs and we are transported back in time prior to the catastrophe. What would you, I, or anyone do? Might we follow the most basic instinct for survival and act to avoid it? Discovering we now can easily save our entire world, families, and everything which was lost would be, well, "good" wouldn't it? No, J.J. Abrams doesn't want characters who are so predictable, he wants excitement and grittiness! His characters are full of surprises, and Nero is no exception. Rather than the typical celebration that one might expect at what everyone else would consider a miraculous answer to one's most heartfelt prayers, Nero flies into a rage and murders Robau, the bringer of the great news. This is silly, nonsensical writing.

Back on the Kelvin bridge, where everyone has been uselessly staring at a new, more anatomically correct schematic of Robau, that visual goes red and "TERMINATED" is overlaid in bright red caps. Great graphic for a sci fi movie tie-in, terrible for medical accuracy or sensibility. Exactly what was terminated? The data feed? Respiration? Did the pulse rate drop to zero? Silly.
A bridge officer announces, "Sir, they locked on our signal. They're launching again!" Capt. George Kirk calls for "Bravo six maneuver, fire full…" and the rest of the order is obscured by explosions as we cut to the exterior battle scene where we see a massive barrage from a dozen or more phasers and pulse cannons shooting at the enemy ship, and that's only from one side of the Kelvin's saucer section. The canon on this was clear: phasers are powered by the warp drive – without access to the kind of energy the main engines produce, only torpedoes are available, and I don't recall any mention or visuals of torpedoes aboard or used by the Kelvin. Where is all that energy coming from which powers all this firing? It's a miracle!
We see the "top" of the saucer show damage or destruction on about 30% of its surface. The ship shown doesn't even appear habitable, much less capable of any real operations, much less any type of combat, much less launching an attack against a vastly superior enemy. How is this possible? It's a miracle!

We see several explosions inside the Kelvin, including bridge panels exploding, downing crew members. An overhead panel bursts with smoke and sparks just over the Captain's chair and the bridge fills with smoke and sparks as Kirk jumps out of the command chair in what looks to be an effort to check the downed crew as he declares: "I'm initiating General Order 13, we're evacuating!"
We see a pregnant woman in a wheelchair who says: "That's George's voice, What's happening?" as she is pushed quickly out by a medical team. A woman on the med team announces "We'll deliver in the shuttle, go!" I suppose this comment is slightly plausible, but one would think that they would have announced this when deciding to evacuate, since it would effect what they brought from sickbay. It seems to make little sense to say this when preparations are done and the group is already jogging down the passageway, where Minute 006 ends.
Looking at this segment and the preceding, at some point all these miracles and inconsistencies appear to abuse viewers. I don't want to be petty and nitpick, especially a Trek film – rather I want to get swept away by a great story to a place I've never been on a grand adventure. But when there's no sensibility, no consistency, and the plot is advanced without plausible cause and effect events in a narrative believable for the universe in which it is set, one feels somehow insulted by the film. This feeling persists regardless of how pretty the actors, how grand the music, and how good the special effects look. In fact, better production highlights defects, placing them in sharp contrast to the great quality of the presentation.
Perhaps it will get better? Next: STbtM 007

Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

Distinguished theory and performance teacher provides expert knowledge during " Music with a View "at the Aspen Art Museum