Monday, December 27, 2004

Mostly off topic, but things are slow around here, so...
from the mind of  Duke.

Two years ago, cowgirlup sent me an email lamenting the sorry state of Star Trek Enterprise. Never one to stay out of a conversation regarding science fiction, I wrote the following:

Yes, Enterprise has begun to suck, and political correctness is indeed at the heart of it. The whole point of the show is supposed to be that this is the beginning, when the universe is an untamed and dangerous place. Unfortunately, the writers seem to have forgotten that frontiers are not places where you spend a lot of time sitting around talking about your feelings; you're too busy trying to stay alive.

Some people deride Next Generation as also being too PC, but the difference is that NG had earned it, or rather, the previous series had. Captain Kirk and his contemporaries turned the Klingons into a bunch of pansies, sealed the Romulans up North Korea style inside the neutral zone, and generally tamed the galaxy. When Picard has time to sit around and ruminate about Shakespeare and the like, we can at least acknowledge that his forefathers have earned with their blood the right for him to do so.

The reason this worked was the obvious parallel with contemporary society. My grandfather and his generation went island-hopping in the Pacific to make the world safe enough for my generation to be able watch the television show Survivor take place on those same islands. Even as we whine about the PC aspects of NG, we can't help but identify with them.

So back to Enterprise. The central problem is that this show takes the same liberties with political correctness as NG, without having a nice safe galaxy fairly earned by an earlier (and tougher) generation of explorers in which to do so. We resent the fact that Archer and crew think they have the luxury of acting so damned sophisticated in such a rough neighborhood. The old saying goes that Kirk and Picard wouldn't last a minute in each other's times. Kirk would be court martialed for sexual harassment in about five minutes, and Picard would swiftly have his ass kicked by some very un-PC aliens. Exactly what universe would Archer fit well in? It certainly isn't the one in which he has been placed.

Douglas Adams wrote in one of the Hitchhiker books that all civilizations go through three stages:

Stage 1 - Survival: "What can we eat?"
Stage 2 - Discovery: "Why do we eat?"
Stage 3 - Sophistication: "Where shall we go for brunch?"

It's a good joke, but also surprisingly accurate. The NG universe has clearly evolved to stage three, and in one episode Picard actually does whine to Crusher about the selection at breakfast. Suck it up Jean Luc. If an attractive redhead wants to regularly have breakfast with you, the least you can do is let her choose the menu.

Kirk clearly lives in stage two. Humans have made themselves known and respected, and are busily expanding the twin spheres of influence and knowledge as all aspiring great powers must do. They also have to compete with the Reds, I mean Klingons, who are after the same thing. The food isn't that great just yet, but it is at least plentiful, barring the odd Tribble infestation.

So by all rights, Enterprise should clearly be the stage one entry. Humanity is at the point where it is desperately trying to carve out a place for itself among all the other ambitious species, lest it become merely a footnote in a future printing of the Encyclopedia Galactica. Instead, what we get is Archer (and his dog, his goddamned dog!) eating gourmet meals served to him by a steward in his private mess and having deep conversations with whoever he grants the favor of joining him.

Whoops, suddenly we've jumped ahead to stage three without having gone through stages one or two. Shouldn't that steward instead be down in the engine room doing the 22nd century equivalent of shoveling coal into the engine while the captain dines on C-rations with the other officers? At this point in the game there simply does not exist the luxury of wasting resources like this. When faced with the decision of a waiter or another warrior, which do you think the Klingons would choose? Is it any wonder that we feel so cheated when Archer presumes himself to be a frontier leader?

Addressing pressing social issues in a show like this isn't a bad thing, indeed, some would say it is the strength of Star Trek. The best example is from the original series, where two aliens fight to the death, because one has the left side of his face white and the right side black, while the other has the colors reversed. It seems to the crew of the Enterprise a silly thing to fight over, and the parallels to race relations in the 60s are clear if you think about it. But the show doesn't beat us over the head with the message. Rather, it puts it out there and leaves it to us to figure out. I bet a lot of people have seen that episode numerous times and never realized what it was really about. But that's the point. The effect would be ruined if the message were instead blatantly shoved in our faces.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Enterprise has done again and again (Voyager is about as equally guilty). They can't just cleverly imply something, they have to spell out in big capital letters over and over again. We feel we are being condescended to, and rightly so.

Before I go to bed, I suppose I need to address what Enterprise has done to the Vulcans. All the previous shows have shown them to be an entirely admirable race. A little smug perhaps, but at least it was well earned. Kirk and Janeway had the right idea, and you'd want a Vulcan on your bridge too. But Enterprise has made the conscious decision to entirely demolish this construct, and make the species into a bunch of lying, condescending, contemptuous assholes. With big breasts. While there has always been plenty of evidence that Vulcans do in fact have a darker side to them, the way Enterprise has gone about showing this is so heavy handed as to be unbelievable. The simple explanation is that the writers of the original series liked the Vulcans. The writers of Enterprise do not. The earlier series has taught us to like the Vulcans, and when the writers now turn on them with this sort of malice, we don't accept it.

I think a lot of Star Trek fans, even those who aren't consciously aware of it, have become turned off to the show for just these reasons. It doesn't matter if the sets and CGI are great, the actors are capable, or even if the writing is good, so long as the crew is fundamentally incompatible with the universe they are supposed to inhabit. It doesn't matter if the message is good when the delivery makes us feel like children being lectured to. It doesn't matter how thoughtfully a sacred cow like the Vulcan race is slaughtered when the audience doesn't want to see it happen in the first place.

This is where the show stands now. Whether or not it can be redeemed, I don't know. Deep Space Nine started off weak, and eventually won me over in a big way. Voyager started off decently, and got worse with almost every passing show. I wouldn't have even kept watching if Seven hadn't shown up when she did.

Wow, I can't believe I wrote this much on a show I don't even like. Guess I hate it more than I thought. Good to know, I suppose.

I think this was more or less on target. Unfortunately, the show never improved, and I long ago stopped watching. Sadly, this left me without a science fiction to watch on television. Stargate never did it for me, and Firefly was gone almost before it started.

Then something wonderful happened. A miniseries revival of Battlestar Galactica was made by the SciFi channel. My expectations had not been high. The original show, for all the rose-colored nostalgia people remember it with, wasn't very good. And how could the same industry that had created the dreadful Enterprise be expected to do better?

But against all expectations, it was good. No, it was great. To summarize for those of you who have not had the pleasure:

Long ago humans fought an indecisive war against the Cylons. In the decades that followed the cease-fire, the danger became remote, and the once feared enemy became more an abstract and half-remembered curiosity than serious threat.

When the Cylons suddenly resumed hostilities, their surprise was complete and devastating. Humanity was not merely defeated, it was nearly exterminated. The crew of the Galactica and a few other ships are all who have survived the holocaust. They are now forced to run from overwhelming Cylon forces, perhaps one day to find the mythical lost colony of Earth.

I have high hopes that Battlestar Galactica will be the anti-Enterprise. Why? The way the series has started will simply demand it. While the Galactica will no doubt face many of the same plot devices we have seen in Enterprise, the nature of their situation will force them to deal with these events in a manner that will hopefully be a little less stomach-churning. Here are what I consider to be the fundamental initial conditions:

Enterprise is stuck with that tired "explore strange new worlds..." nonsense, while the crew of the Galactica is intensely aware that they are running for their lives from an enemy who wishes only to eradicate them. Their mission, above all else, is survival.

Where the eponymous ship in Enterprise is primarily a vessel of exploration, crewed by cartographers, scientists and diplomats, there is no escaping the fact that Galactica is a battleship with a military crew. They are going to see the solutions to their problems in terms of how much firepower they can bring to bear. Given that they are involved in a war, this is not a bad thing, as some would have us believe.

Finally, for the crew of the Galactica, the stakes are simply much, much higher than they ever will be for those aboard the Enterprise. Unwise but politically correct behavior isn't merely going to kill the crew of a single ship; it will doom humanity to extinction. When trouble appears, there will not exist the luxury of stopping to chat and maybe make friends. The more sensible course of action will be to shoot first, then run like hell. If you end up hurting someone's feelings in the process, well too fucking bad.

This isn't to say that Battlestar Galactica will be invulnerable to the usual butchery of Hollywood writers. They've proven themselves far too effective at that for us ever to discount the possibility. But for now, I remain hopeful.

Okay, this is supposed to be a political blog, so I suppose I ought to try to make this little rant at least tangentially relevant to that topic. But you've already seen where I'm going with this, haven't you?

We can choose which of two television shows to watch. Two ships, two captains, two crews. Both share hostile universes with implacable, genocidal enemies.

And we can choose which of two political parties to support. Two platforms, two sets of leaders, two groups of supporters. Both share the same planet with an implacable, genocidal enemy.

Enterprise is written for those who have chosen one way of dealing with such a threat. Will Battlestar Galactica finally be the show for those of us who have chosen the other?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Interesting post Re: DPRK defectors
from the mind of  Daredemo.

... on North Korea zone posted a couple days ago... Interesting picture from inside the DPRK via interviews with some recent defectors. Go take a look.

Friday, December 10, 2004

from the mind of  Daredemo.

After having their hopes of removing Bush and Cheney from office squashed a month ago, the left is now working on what they believe to be the next most vulnerable target in the administration, Donald Rumsfeld. This started a couple weeks ago with incessant (and evidently baseless) chatter about his imminent resignation, and continues now with a kerfuffle triggered by a Q & A session Rumsfeld had with the troops in Kuwait on Dec 8. (Completely voluntarily and open to the public. Obvious evidence of how diabolically secretive this administration really is) Here is the full exchange. Note how it ends, which is never reported.

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. My question is more logistical. We've had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we've always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us? [Applause]

SEC. RUMSFELD: I missed the first part of your question. And could you repeat it for me?
Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I talked to the General coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I'm told that they are being – the Army is – I think it's something like 400 a month are being done. And its essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it.

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe – it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.

I can assure you that General Schoomaker and the leadership in the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but that they're working at it at a good clip. It's interesting, I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who've been working on it hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and, the vehicle, the goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that is what the Army has been working on.

And General Whitcomb, is there anything you'd want to add to that?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Nothing. [Laughter] Mr. Secretary, I'd be happy to. That is a focus on what we do here in Kuwait and what is done up in the theater, both in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. As the secretary has said, it's not a matter of money or desire; it is a matter of the logistics of being able to produce it. The 699th, the team that we've got here in Kuwait has done [Cheers] a tremendous effort to take that steel that they have and cut it, prefab it and put it on vehicles. But there is nobody from the president on down that is not aware that this is a challenge for us and this is a desire for us to accomplish.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The other day, after there was a big threat alert in Washington, D.C. in connection with the elections, as I recall, I looked outside the Pentagon and there were six or eight up-armored humvees. They're not there anymore. [Cheers] [Applause] They're en route out here, I can assure you.

Were I to follow standard debate tactics for the left, I would attempt to defend Rumsfeld by attacking the messenger, and point out say, for example, from Fox News:

The guardsman who questioned Rumsfeld on the vehicle armor, Spc. Thomas Wilson, had consulted earlier with a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter who is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team.

The reporter, Edward Lee Pitts, said he had worked with guardsmen after being told reporters would not be allowed to ask Rumsfeld any questions, Pitts wrote in an e-mail to co-workers sent Wednesday.

...and wondering really how representative the question was of the true situation on the ground. But not being of that political persuasion, I won't do that. Frankly, don't need to. Its a good question, and the [Applause] after it was asked evidences that. Rumsfeld and Gen. Whitcomb did an excellent job of answering it (though again you never see the full answer reported). And I think demonstrated they are fully aware of the problem and are solving it to the best of their ability. I also find it quite interesting that today we see reports coming from the manufacturers saying they now claim they can produce these vehicles faster (imagine that!). For example, from the same Fox News article:

Military officials said Thursday they were working hard to upgrade the armor on Army vehicles in Iraq, with nearly three-fourths of the Humvees in the theater now completed.

Of more than 9,100 heavy military haulers in Iraq, Afghanistan and nearby countries, just over 1,100 have received upgraded protection, according to figures provided by the House Armed Services Committee. Armor add-on kits are in production for many of the rest of these vehicles.

By comparison, the military has decided it needs almost 22,000 armored Humvees in the war area. It has 15,334; an additional 4,400 await armor add-ons and the rest have not been delivered to the region.

Those Humvees are being built at the rate of 450 a month. The company armoring them, Armor Holdings Inc., said Thursday it could increase production by 50 to 100 vehicles a month.

Why isn't there more attention directed towards the company? If it had the capability to increase production why didn't it? A local public radio talk show (political leanings you can probably guess) this morning claimed that the company "hadn't been asked" and that it "supposed there wasn't interest". In the unlikely case this has any basis in truth, the management of this company obviously do not follow mass media's gleeful daily reporting of the casualties inflicted by roadside explosive devices. Its more likely if they did ever mention they had this capability before the finger was pointed at them, they were holding out for an exorbitant price. And then we would be undoubtedly be hearing the press yammering for Rumsfeld's head over overcharges in Humvee purchasing.

Also just noticed opinionjournal has a good op-ed today on this. Especially:
When commanders first identified the need for more armored vehicles, in August 2003, production was at 30 per month; it's now up to 450 a month and the plants making armor are running at full capacity.

There you go, case closed. Now go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Claims of "Fear Mongering" is Fear Mongering
from the mind of  Zeke_Wilkins.

Since there hasn't been a new post in a while, I'd just like to vent briefly on a topic that was played into the ground during the presidential election: fear mongering. Democrats and radicals love to accuse others of being afraid, or of trying to get others to be afraid. The issue at hand doesn't seem to matter: if a conservative opposes homosexual marriage, then he is afraid of homosexuals, or afraid that he may be one. If a republican is for an agressive stance against terrorism than he is afraid of attacks, or trying to play on other's fear of attacks. I suppose, by that logic, that my opposition to abortion means I'm afraid of "empowered" women.

The preoccupation with fear by leftists is a clear indicator of which side is truly fearful. We conservatives are a hearty stock: a meat-eating, heat-packing, SUV-driving people, not much in need of psychoses and phobias. We don't wake up in fear of homosexuals, terrorists, the hole in the ozone, global warming or our cholesterol levels. Those who try to characterize us as being fearful neither know us nor understand us. Liberals mistake principled opposition with irrational hatred so often because they themselves engage in irrationality.

The most unfortunate aspect of using accusations of fear mongering is that the argument capitalizes on the hearer's fear of being labeled fearful. Thus, it accomplishes exactly what it accuses others of doing. This is yet another example of hypocrisy on the left.