Cognitive Competence

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So, the "President"'s doctor says Trump's cognitive ability is fine and there's no reason to believe he's suffering any kind of decline or dementia.

I have no trouble believing that.

As much as it might be in some weird way comforting to think that President VonClownstick is a demented old man and that's why he says and does the horrible things he says and does, there's no reason to think so. It'd be one thing if there had been an observed change in his behavior, but aside from Michael Wolff's observation in the Fire and Fury book that he's taken to repeating himself more often than he had been previously, I don't know of any. He's been this same sort of racist blowhard misogynist ignoramus moron the whole time he's been a public figure. Presumably before that, too.

He's completely compos mentis. He may be (and is) a narcissistic, vain, incredibly insecure egomaniac; he might be (and is) a bigoted, mean, willfully ignorant sociopath; he may be (and is) a weak-willed, greedy, and fundamentally cruel fool whose lack of intellect and dearth of knowledge makes him an easily-manipulated danger to all of humanity; but he's perfectly sane.

What I do have some trouble believing is that the man weighs only 236 pounds. That rings about as true as the back of Terry Forster's baseball card.

The New Normal

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The avalanche of crap coming from the White House has been impossible to keep up with. There's just too much. Every day brings news of a new outrage from President VonClownstick or one of his toadies. If it's not the "shocking" racist statement about immigrants form "shithole countries" (this shocks no one who has been paying attention, that's who this idiot is), it's the neverending stream of lies coming from Sarah Huckabee Sanders' press briefings or tweets that parrot Fox News and cause national security officials to go into frenzied damage-control spasms. And that's just the "big" stuff.

Rachel Maddow did an exceptional "A" block the other evening that pretty well covered my feelings on the subject; there is just SO MUCH in terms of outrageous behavior, bad policy, overt meanness, and basic incompetence and stupidity coming out of 1600 Penn. that we're numb to it. It takes the exceptionally salacious or brutal to be given its proper reaction and attention, otherwise it's just Trump being Trump and so much yadda yadda yadda.

We humans only have so much bandwidth to devote to keeping up with the details of this crisis in history, but even if we don't pay strict attention to the yadda yadda of it, we have to remember that's what it is. Life keeps on chugging forward day by day, but we are living through a pivotal period in history that demands attention—as much as we can bring ourselves to give it, anyway.

 

New Year, New Post

2018

I don't generally do well with the whole New Years resolution thing. Like a lot of people, if I make any at all, they tend to get followed for a few days or weeks and then fall by the wayside. Last year I made some; nearly all of them didn't take. (I did make the cabinets, though. This year I need to make some more, slightly different ones.)

This orbit, my thoughts are similar to last—fear and trepidation from the Trumpster fire at 1600 Penn., anxiety and impatience about my housing situation, dissatisfaction with personal stuff—and I could almost copy and paste last year's post here without much tweaking and it'd be just as appropriate to the moment.

But let's go through the exercise, just for the hell of it. So, Things I Would Like to Do Going Forward in This the Year 2018:

  • Get back to sketching. This is one from last year that failed pretty spectacularly.
  • Resolve the house issue. This is not entirely under my control, there's a big element that depends on the real estate market, but I would like to think that in a year's time I will be living in a different domicile. If nothing else, for the satisfaction of telling my landlord what I think of his 25% rent hikes. This issue has been something of an education this past year, as the already-tight Seattle market has gotten even more ridiculously expensive and choices even more sparse. My primary motivation for wanting to buy a home had been to ensure I don't get financially forced out of the city, but I'm starting to concede that I may have to do just that. Goddamn Amazon and other outfits bringing more and more people with money to burn into town are really screwing the rest of us as housing prices and rents keep skyrocketing. I've been seriously considering homes in Shoreline and less-seriously considering places even further out just because that's where they're for sale at asking prices that I can afford. It's depressing. I'd put Tacoma in the realm of possibilities if it didn't seem like it'd make my existence even more isolated living down there; the options seem to be a lot more plentiful there, but it would genuinely feel like a defeat if I left Seattle.
  • Grow my business—not a lot, just some. Enough to make up for the loss of clientele that have gone out of business in 2017. To that end, I'm working on some ideas for ways to appeal to folks that aren't rolling in dough, but it'd be better to land more clients that actually have the means to pay for custom work.
  • The old standby: More exercise. I've been a sedentary lump more often than I'd like to admit lately. Walk and/or ride the bike with some regularity, even when I don't have anywhere to necessarily go.
  • Once again, do better with the blog. How is it I don't have anything to say? C'mon, son. Even if it's nonsense about TV and comics, surely I can fill a post now and again that's reasonably interesting to, well, me if no one else.

The larger macro picture of the world promises to be plenty interesting, of course, and here's hoping we all survive it. Everyone—at least, ever American—make sure your voter registration is up to date and be ready to fight when the corrupt Republican party tries to rig another set of elections. 

Motives, Madness, and Male Behavior

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Al Franken

The current cultural focus on sexual harassment and assaults is largely a good thing. Fostering an environment where (a) victims feel that reporting the crime is a viable option with an expectation of being taken seriously, and (b) exposing the prevalence with which that sort of behavior still goes on in modern America (and elsewhere, but we get into other elements with other cultures) can and should go a long way toward changing our cultural acceptances and minimizing, if not eliminating, such behavior in the future.

It's fascinating to see this all going down now; I've written two posts on the subject already, about Cosby and Spacey, and lo and behold here's a third. One of the reasons it's a fascinating topic is its inherent mystery—I really don't get it. I mean, I understand the theory and intellectual analysis of men abusing their power over people they see as lesser; it's an ego and psychology and/or pathology issue, OK. But I don't get it, intuitively. It defies easy understanding. In some cases, the public response also defies easy understanding.

Now, I'm a straight dude who hasn't ever been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, unlike basically every woman I know, so my perspective is limited. There are things I will not know from firsthand experience and things I can only grasp as intellectual concepts. So, with that established, I have a question about Al Franken's case.

I've seen a lot of reaction to Franken's situation on television and social media, heard plenty of people discuss it on podcasts and news shows. People I know and people I don't have declared with vehemence that Franken should resign his Senate seat. Others have said with equal vehemence that he absolutely should not. Some uncertainty exists as to the veracity of the accusations against him—his security escort from the USO tour maintains there was never a moment that Franken and his accuser were alone, for example—but enough of it is accurate enough for Franken to own up to, if not the exact behavior alleged, inappropriate and offensive actions that shouldn't have a place in civilized society. (And really, Franken himself has reacted quite well, showing an awareness and repentance that none of the other men accused of such during this time have shown.)

My question to those that demand his resignation, though, is this: Why?

That's not a snarky question, it's intended to be taken at face value. Why do you want him to resign? What purpose will it serve for you? What is the hoped for consequence of a resignation? I'm not advocating one position or the other here, I just want to know the reasoning.

Is it to teach him a lesson, show him that behavior like that is unacceptable and not to be repeated? Unnecessary, Franken is already there and, unlike the other high-profile culprits, has not evidenced a predatory pathology; in fact, plenty of women who have worked with him have made a point of declaring the opposite, that Franken has only been a respectful professional in this regard. He's pre-reformed.

Is it to enforce a kind of no-tolerance policy that demands ostracization of anyone to ever have such an accusation levied on them? If so, be prepared to prosecute scores of other officials and public figures, not to mention everyday men who once pledged a fraternity or made lewd jokes at a bachelor party. (I would not defend such jokes, fraternity practices, pledging fraternities, or even the traditional bachelor party, I'm just pointing out the ubiquity of these attitudes in our culture to date.)

Is it in support of the accuser? She doesn't want his resignation, she in fact seems kind of blasé about any fallout for him.

If none of these things, then what? What big-picture result of a repentant, diligent ally of women's rights and positive public policy leaving his position and abdicating his ability to help influence this and other important issues am I not seeing?

Maybe a zero-tolerance take is valid. I tend to think not, as there are degrees to this and, as Franken has shown, people can grow and learn on the issue and become champions for the cause, and men who have been guilty of one or two relatively minor offenses in years past should not be looked at in the same way as those with pathological issues (Anthony Weiner, Cosby, Spacey, C.K.) and/or who fail to acknowledge the humanity of their victims (Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein).

The cultural problem is finally being addressed, and hopefully it will continue to be until such time as we look back on it as distastefully as we do "separate-but-equal" and treating abrasions with mercury. The pathological problems will need an additional vector to combat; a cultural shame/fear factor will no doubt help greatly, but some people will always be predators. It seems important to make a distinction.

A Year of Trump

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It could be worse.

A year since the election that gave us the most embarrassing and heinous man to ever hold the office of President of the United States, the orange idiot has basically failed to accomplish much of anything. Not entirely—the number of judicial appointments is concerning, of course, and a staggering number of executive orders intended to screw people and pollute the planet—but in terms of big policy, he's got bupkis to show for his efforts. (If we can call them efforts. Being ignorant of his actual job duties, he's actually done very little policymaking.) Still, everything he has done has been horrible, and the behavior of other elected Republicans is arguably more horrible as they allow him to continue to be president while pushing legislation that defies their mandate as public servants.

Last year at Thanksgiving I was asked how long I thought Trump would last in office. I said, if I recall correctly, somewhere between "until Christmas" and "early 2019," depending on how much the Republican congress would tolerate. Congress has already supported and/or turned a blind eye to more than I would have thought they would, but when the tax-reform bill fails that might tip the scales. Maybe. Who knows, with this crowd. Paul Ryan is apparently as corrupt as anyone this side of the Trump family themselves, at least in terms of betraying his duty to serve the public interest in favor of an overall agenda of enriching himself and his benefactors, so maybe nothing will tip the scales. The Mueller investigation could produce incontrovertible proof of treason and Ryan might shrug it off. The midterms may have to happen—without enough cheating to rig things—first, assuming we and our electoral system of government survive through 2018.

Meanwhile, he's still living at 1600 Penn. It could be worse, but it's plenty bad already. John Oliver lays it all out.

 

Disco Fever

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Now that we've hit the halfway mark in the first season, some more refined thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.

Short version: I like it, it is proving to indeed be good Star Trek as well as good sci-fi, though the "spore drive" that much of this season relies on stretches the "sci" part of things pretty far.

Longer version follows...


See full post: "Disco Fever"...

Abrupt Transitions

As has become semi-traditional, I spent the end of October at my dad's place in Palm Springs, where it was hot and very, very dry. I was down there for almost two weeks, which is kind of a long time to be away, but I got to be down there for Dad's 75th birthday and we watched the entire World Series (though we had to watch Game 7 on delay thanks to SoCal freeway traffic, which just made the finish that much more anticlimactic — less climatcic? — as 7 was the only game that was basically decided 20 minutes in).

It was a stark change when I got back. My system couldn't handle it, I guess. I went from sunny dry 85 degrees to snow. We voluntarily changed time zones the next day. I'd arrived in California fighting the black hole and gradually felt better while I was there and looked forward to getting back to regular life stuff, then as soon as I get back I get blindsided by germs and end up laid up for three days with a sequel to the cold and fever that hit me six weeks ago. A real compare and contrast kind of experience.

So I'm dizzy from metaphoric whiplash or something.

Good thing I voted early.

This post is meandering and serves little purpose.

Literal Language

So, this Kevin Spacey thing.

Sadly, I have no trouble believing the allegation. I am rather fond of Anthony Rapp, who plays my current favorite character on Discovery (Lt. Stamets, or "Hippie Paul," as he's become of late), and give him all kinds of credit and support for coming forward with his story. Even if I weren't predisposed to believe Rapp, the fact that Spacey responded to the story so quickly and in the way he did all but confirms it's accurate.

It's an awful thing, preying on a minor, and hooray for young Rapp getting away. It's also awful that Spacey chose to try to spin his statement in an attempt to garner sympathy, or at least to deflect from the substance of the incident in question. His choice of language was especially poor in his "coming out" portion of the statement, which is one of two things that seem to have generated outrage in the Twittersphere.

 

Using the response to an allegation of sexually preying on a minor is a horrible way to come out of the closet in all kinds of ways, and his use of the term "I choose" is also problematic. So, outrage more than warranted.

Yet, I found myself in a couple of Twitter exchanges about the other part of it that people ranted about.


 

Maybe I've become extra sensitive to the concept of drunk because of my mom. Maybe I'm just too prone to taking everything literally. Maybe both. But to my reading, Spacey did not try to excuse his actions with drink. He did use his intoxication as a factor in his inability to remember the event (or so he says, though it's plenty plausible he doesn't remember), and yeah, I think it's probably there in an attempt to elicit sympathy (Rapp's account also describes Spacey as soused, so the being drunk part isn't made up). But he didn't try offer his drunkenness as some kind of the-devil-made-me-do-it denial of culpability. And complicating the issue by creating a different offense than the one that actually happened isn't helpful.

 

Spacey has evidently had a habit of cruising for young guys, and if those rumors are true his apology rings a little hollow. Plenty there to be upset about without getting into a "being drunk is no excuse!" fight when he didn't offer an excuse — at least, not in the literal sense.

All that said, Spacey is just the latest prominent person to be revealed as a predator who (allegedly) likes to abuse his sense of power. While unsettling, all this is good in a way — our culture is finally getting to the point where victims of such men (it's always men, isn't it?) can feel more secure about coming forward and the predators can feel less confident that they'll be protected. It's a step forward.

Potpourri

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I don't feel coherent enough today to put together a cogent post on any particular subject, so here are a few fragments of thoughts on several topics...

  • I didn't get around to doing my usual baseball postseason predictions, but if I had I would have predicted thusly:
    • LDS: Houston over Boston, Cleveland over New York; Los Angeles over Arizona, Washington over Chicago.
    • LCS: Houston over Cleveland, Los Angeles over Washington.
    • World Series: Houston over Los Angeles.
    So I'm batting .500 so far. Houston is, unfortunately, very very good, and I don't see them losing more than a few games the whole way. If anyone can beat them, though, it's probably LA; the Dodgers are crazy deep and might be able to keep the Astros in check, but it'd be an upset. So far, the playoffs have been fun but not that memorable save for the Cubs/Nationals Game 5, which was insane. Reminded me a little of the 15-14 game in the 1993 World Series, but the '93 game at least had rainy conditions and a wet field to blame the horrible pitching on; the Nats and Cubs were just playing as if hexed, which some Washington, DC, fans might think is plausible given the Nationals' seeming inability to win a playoff series no matter how may leads they take. One of the freakier games I've ever seen.
  • My housing search has been going in earnest for a few months now, and I'm getting rather discouraged. When I was looking "unofficially" over the past year or so, before I had the money in hand to actually buy anything, there seems to be enough listings popping up every now and then to make me feel like this would be a relatively quick to-do once I had the cash in hand, but it's not turned out that way. Just in that time the market seems to have inflated to a disturbing degree, and I've started expanding my search radius outside of the city. I don't want to leave the city proper, but thanks to fucking Amazon and other big biz luring people here with higher-end paychecks and a lack of development in housing starts, I might not have a choice. Even if I continue to rent, things are bad — I got socked with the second rent hike of 20+% in the last few years recently, making staying where I am untenable in the long term. Goddamn Amazon.com... I'm having a look at a townhome near the edge of the city limits tomorrow at an open house. We'll see how that goes.
  • In addition to Discovery, the premiere of which I opined on here and which continues to be solidly engrossing, I've been enjoying The Orville, The Good Place, Mr. Robot, and The Gifted on the TeeVee. I'm unsurprisingly disappointed so far in The Inhumans, though. Still, it's a good time to be a nerd with all the geeky TV series these days.
  • I thought I had more brain droppings to write about, but my mental haze must be thicker than I realized. Bleh.

The Changing Face of Evil

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I had been in the middle of writing a post about this country's penchant for revisionist history, referencing John Oliver's show segment about Confederate monuments, the Harvey Weinstein outrage and how it was only now coming out that he'd been horrible for years and years, the rampant bullshit being spewed out of the White House press room, and on and on. All that was leading into some commentary on the recent rash of stories about high-profile sexual predators, from Weinstein to Bill O'Reilly to Roger Ailes to the Catholic Church to the Penn State University guy to Donald Fucking Trump.

And Bill Cosby.

So I'm writing this and then Rachel Maddow's show begins and she starts talking about Harvey Weinstein and ... Bill Cosby.

Rachel threw the Cosby scandal right up on my TV as I was trying to write something about it, which was, frankly, a little irritating. :)

The thing is, when I was a kid, Bill Cosby was a big deal to me. I didn't care one way or another about his sitcom, really, though that was fine; I loved his standup albums and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Fat Albert was the highlight of Saturday morning cartoons with its thematic educational bent showing us kids how to be good people and treat our fellow humans better, and the standup albums were joyfully rich with funny stories that were wholesome and didn't depend on insults or any sort of derogatory language, that were relatable by most people in American culture. Many of them about growing up and childhood adventures, many of them about everyday events. It was a sense of humor that I gravitated to, a way of storytelling I delighted in.

The Cos was a big part of my adolescent years. I knew (and still know) whole albums verbatim, having listened to them countless times. I regaled my dad and others with retellings of routines about tonsillectomies, Cobra automobiles, Junior Barnes, go-cart races, and The Lone Ranger. 

About 20 years ago(!) I drew a large piece I called "Heroes," a charcoal montage of portraits of five public figures that were highly influential in making me me: Gene Roddenberry, Jimmy Carter, John Lennon, Jackie Robinson, and Cosby. I was and am proud of it, it's one of my more satisfying works, and it's been hanging in a prominent place in my living room ever since.

It's still there, and every now and then I wonder if I should take it down. It has a kind of aura about it now that seems like a Confederate statue or something; that's not quite the right analogy, but in any case an honorific to a person that is now a symbol of misogyny and abuse. It's bothersome. (Roddenberry and Lennon were no saints, they had their respective issues, but they each worked to overcome them and to live by their high ideals and I never felt any reticence about displaying their portrait in my home.)

Yet, the influence of Bill Cosby the performer remains, and if I were to listen to one of those standup albums now, I wouldn't enjoy its content any less. The taint of knowing that the performer was/would become a sexual predator and commit irredeemable acts upon who knows how many women would be there, but the humor is still funny and the brilliance of the storytelling is still what it was when I was 12.

So I'm torn about leaving my charcoal masterpiece up on display. I don't want to be thought of as glorifying the symbol of horror that Cosby has become, and if I could somehow replace Cos in the picture cleanly I probably would, but that's not the way these things work. And I still honor the other guys, and the drawing is still something I'm proud of as a piece of work.

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In my earlier (pre-Rachel Maddow interfering with my train of thought) draft of this post, the overarching point was more about acknowledging the nastiness of history in general and resisting the temptations to sanitize our narrative of past events; ignoring historical evils is not a way to overcome them in a society nor on an individual level, and in fact just makes things worse — witness the inclination of many Americans to wave the Stars and Bars while insisting that reveling in that heritage has nothing to do with racism, or how long it's taken for the culture to come around to treating behavior like Weinstein's and Cosby's as worthy of outrage and condemnation (still waiting on the culture to come around to condemning Trump, though).

History is written by the winners, goes the adage, and it's important to remember that the word "history" is a contraction of "his story." With so much reliance by people like Trump and most Republicans on warping accounts of contemporaneous events into unrecognizable fictions, vigilance is needed more than ever. We all need to own up to the bad stuff, even when an admired figure is revealed to be a heinous monster.

Discovery Phase

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Michelle Yaoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou

So, tonight Star Trek: Discovery premiered. First Trek on TV since 2005 and first to be distributed via internet (the first episode on over-the-air CBS in a "first one's free" strategy, behind the CBS Internet paywall thereafter). The leadup was a bit chaotic, with personnel changes and debut delays and a total prohibition on advance reviews of any kind. Expectations were ... let's say moderate.

In some ways, it didn't disappoint. Production values were off the scale. Visually striking, detailed, and I was especially geeking out over the sound effects in the background. Performances mostly good.

In other ways, it rankled, but in minor nitpicky fashions; continuity discrepancies between other Star Trek series, Treknological/scientific liberties that could've been avoided with more attentive writing, that sort of thing.

And in the most important ways, it left me ambivalent. I'll need to see how the story develops to form an opinion on the basic identity of the show and its fidelity to Star Trek ideals and its overall strengths. I think it's a failure of a pilot to leave that much ambivalence, but there's plenty of potential for redemption. What little has been reported about subsequent episodes suggests episode 3 begins a somewhat lighter tone as the titular ship and crew are introduced.

Things I liked:

  • Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou. Yeoh presents a complex character of ideals, confidence, compassion, and gravitas, and does it very well. (Spoiler: Too bad she doesn't survive episode 2, hopefully we'll see more of her in flashbacks.)
  • Doug Jones as Lt. Cdr. Saru. Saru is an alien of a type we haven't seen before, and both his racial background and his individual demeanor are interesting. He comes from a planet where his species is/was livestock to another species, which is kind of fascinating, and as such his response to potential danger is most often to flee, instinctually preferring the flight aspect of fight-or-flight heavily. He's also caustic and a bit brazen, and he's a science officer, making him kind of a Spock/Bones hybrid character. Clever.
  • Design. Mostly. As I said, the visuals are rather impressive and the care that went into graphics and background sound is admirable. There's a touch too much JJ-verse influence on the bridge of the Shenzhou (complete with occasional lens flare), but not enough to distract.
  • The "feel" of the culture on Georgiou's  starship Shenzhou, which is laid-back yet professional, casual yet disciplined. Captain Georgiou would be fun to work for.
  • Starfleet sideburns on the men. Yes! In your face, JJ Abrams.

Things that left me raising my eyebrow Spock-like in a skeptical-not-amused way:

  • Our lead character, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequah Martin-Green), is somewhat unlikable. This may well change, but in the pilot episodes she makes some decisions that are simply too contrary to what we're supposed to believe about her as a character to make her sympathetic. We're apparently supposed to be left thinking she was right and did what she did for good, sensible reasons, but it doesn't fly with me. (Spoiler: It may well have been logical to want to show immediate force when encountering Klingons to get them to respect you, making a kind of effort to speak to them on their cultural grounds, but (a) that's counter to what she's supposed to believe in; (b) she was raised in Vulcan culture and as such would expect to err on the side of pacifism; (c) she's supposed to have this awesome mentor-mentee bond with Georgiou that she completely betrays as if it's of no consequence; (d) the history she's basing her course of action on is from pre-KirShara reform days on Vulcan, which may not be strictly relevant, but does play into its ethics; and (e) it rather predictably would play right into the Klingons' hands, and though she wouldn't be aware of the specific Klingon machinations here, they already have a working theory that they were lured here for a confrontation and she is sufficiently forward-thinking [supposedly] to plot out a few moves ahead and realize engaging Klingons violently would be counterproductive to Federation interests. She thinks she was totally in the right, and I think we the audience are supposed to think that too, but really she just fucked up and betrayed her friend and mentor out of recklessness. The war may have started anyway, but her decidedly un-Vulcan bullheadedness did not help avert it.)
  • James Frain as Sarek. I'm cool with using the Sarek character here, and he was written well enough, but Frain didn't fit the role. Frain is a fine actor, but he does not remotely evoke FrainMark Lenard (original portrayer of Sarek) in appearance, cadence, expression, really anything, nor does he bring anything new to the role to distinguish himself from Lenard (or Ben Cross, who played the role — badly — in the JJ movies). As my friend Mark pointed out as we were watching, it is rare for any actor to play a Vulcan well; we came up with only the Big Three Vulcan actors who've successfully pulled it off, not counting Zach Quinto's JJ-verse Spock — Lenard, Leonard Nimoy (obvs), and Tim Russ, who was in some ways channeling Nimoy. I added Gary Graham, whose Ambassador Soval became pretty decent by the end of Enterprise's run, and gave special dispensation to Jolene Blalock's T'Pol due to the writing she was given (mostly good, but often given "reasons" to be un-Vulcanlike) and Kim Catrall, who had the unenviable job of playing an atypical Vulcan pretending to be typical. Not one guest-Vulcan did it well. (Well, maybe Dame Judith Anderson in a rather small role. And Robin Curtis put in the effort.) Even Celia Lovsky's original T'Pau was a bit like your old grandma who's cantankerous and a bit racist but you tolerate it because she's old and will die soon. It's a difficult task, and not even the best actors are always up to the challenge. But with Sarek being such an important character, it's disappointing to have a subpar performance in the role.
  • Burnham leaving the bridge during crisis to call home, even if it was to ask for specific info about dealing with Klingons. Paints her in a bad light, and besides, it's dramatically unnecessary. She could have known this bit of history already (might have actively sought it out much earlier given her Klingon-related trauma, and that could have been integrated as part of her flashback sequence).
  • The reimagined look of the Klingons. I've read somewhere that the series will over time show us greater variation of the species than we've seen previously, but right now it just seems like the Klingons have a new look just because this time there was more money to spend.
  • The music. The opening theme is quite forgettable save for the Alexander Courage fanfare and carries nothing of the splendor found in Jerry Goldsmith's, James Horner's, and Dennis McCarthy's respective themes. Maybe it'll grow on me. Also, the opening credits visuals are different — not bad different, I actually like the storyboardish style — but a little jarring, at least at first.

Things I cringed at, at least a little bit:

  • The Klingon scenes. My late friend Scott was a big fan of all things Klingon, and I know others are too, but they were never among my favorite Trek cultures, so maybe that informs my relative lack of interest in the scenes on the Klingon ship; highly expository, and in subtitled Klingon spoken haltingly by actors through prosthetic teeth, these bits give important setup information for what's to come, but are just not compelling. One of the Klingons, Voq, is mildly interesting as an outcast wanting to prove his worth, but the rest are, to this point, kind of cardboard.
  • The aforementioned scientific/accepted Trek-lore writing laziness:
    1. The Klingon fable played out by our villains involves a giant beacon that lights up bright as a star to signal all the heads of important Klingon houses to meet. Signaling across light-years with, well, light is a long-term proposition and completely ill-suited to bringing anyone to you within a handful of centuries. Yes, there were additional components to the signal that shook and vibrated the Shenzhou's superstructure, but the idea was that it was a literal beacon. The light from which was useless. Oops.
    2. Technological anachronisms. Holographic two-way transmissions, even in real-time across light-years? The "new" holographic communicator was used a couple of times in Deep Space Nine to reasonable effect, but here — 100-plus years earlier — the tech is way more elaborate and serves zero story purpose. In and of itself, it's fine, but as an anachronism that could have been easily avoided it takes me out of the flow of the story. And Klingons with a cloaking device. It wasn't called that and it was implied that it was unique or at least uncommon, but Klingons don't get cloaks until they trade with the Romulans for it later on.
    3. The mind-meldy conversation between Burnham and Sarek was bothersome not for its content (which was actually quite good), but for its utter non-believability and for exacerbating the real-time-holographic-transmission issue as it rendered that prior bit somewhat redundant. The only similar type of established telepathy with Vulcans is a psychic link between bonded sexual couples, and borrowing that and explaining it away with a "katra" mulligan (contrary to earlier uses of katra mulligans) was irksome and a little icky given Burnham's familial relationship with Sarek.
  • The background bridge character that was ... a robot? Cyborg? Weird augmented alien with a full helmet display head? A refugee from Star Wars or the JJ-verse. In the words of V'Ger's probe, "this device serves no purpose."
  • I'll swallow it, but the (understandable) retcon of using what becomes the Starfleet-wide delta insignia as the Starfleet-wide iconic image 15-20 years too early, in an era in which we know it is linked exclusively to the starship Enterprise, is a nitpicky nerd-gripe that I will have to explain somehow in my internal head-canon.
  • And finally, too much emphasis on action and gee-whiz-neato look-what-we-can-do effects (which, as I said, look great) at the expense of theme and substance. In the absence of the full story and most of the regular characters, this is perhaps an unfair criticism and may change with context. Hopefully it will. But as a pilot it's odd to give this sort of thing short shrift.

Potential here is vast, and it's more solid as a production (even allowing for budget/tech inflation) than The Next Generation's pilot, but with Star Trek I always expect on some level to be, if not overwhelmed, satisfactorily whelmed; DS9's pilot was very good, Enterprise's had flaws but gave a fine foundation, Voyager's was...well, it was much better than what followed. But Discovery's jury is still out, at least until next week.

 

UPDATE: TrekMovie has a decent recap/review up now that's worth a look. It is spoiler-heavy, though, so beware.

What Dreams are Made Of

brain

It's 4:00am and I can't sleep. Not an altogether unusual occurrence, but not a welcome one either. But not being asleep does mean I'm not enduring another of my subconscious Twilight Zone episode-style dreams.

I've been having a recurring dream of late—well, the actual dream isn't recurring, but the theme and premise is—in which my late mother shows up alive. My science-fiction- and comic-book-reared brain knows that in those genres, death isn't necessarily a permanent state—Spock came back thanks to the regenerative properties of Project Genesis, Buffy was magically brought back by the Scoobies, Captain Jack Harkness dies and comes back all the time. In comicdom, characters are killed off and brought back as marketing ploys with annoying frequency; we used to say there were two kinds of dead comic characters, just-for-now-dead and "Bucky-dead." (We used to say that, because after decades Marvel even resurrected Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, so even Bucky isn't Bucky-dead anymore.) Captain America, the Human Torch, Batman, two different Robins (with a third only thought dead), Doc Ock, and Wolverine are just the most recent characters that come to mind that have come back from the great beyond no worse for wear. Oh, and Phil Coulson. Tahiti is a magical place.

So I guess it's not surprising that my subconscious would generate a scenario like the one I was treated to lat night/this morning, that had both my mom and her husband returning because of some sort of time-dilation mumbo-jumbo during their travels, putting me in the awkward position of having to explain to them that I'd sold their house and depended on some of their money now, oh, and that this was going to seriously fuck up all the struggles I'd been going through with banks and fund managers to get control of their assets. In this dream scenario, I somehow also knew from the get-go that this was a short-term return, that the metaphysics of this mumbo-jumbo just meant I was going to have to go through them dying all over again, and in my mom's case, her finding out that their house was now owned by somebody else just prompted her to drink continually, berate me, and call me unprintable names.

Previous iterations of this dream-theme weren't so wholly unpleasant, in that in them I'm glad to see my mom again and then they veer into unpleasantness when the re-dying happens (it always happens, part of the theme). The details generally fade pretty quickly upon waking up, but the basic outlines remain.

I have, of course, been dealing with a great many entities and institutions since she passed away regarding assets and various executor-like things, most of which eventually got resolved after varying amounts of frustration and outrage. One remains unresolved, and as that item has been occupying a chunk of my waking time in recent weeks (lawyers and judges and probate, oh my) I guess my brain decided to use it as ready-material for REM movies.

Thanks a lot, brain.

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