The Problem with Khan, Spock, and Whales – Part 2

Star Trek III Search for Spock Klingons Kruge

In the previous installment, we began to discuss one of the greatest stories told in the Star Trek universe. Like any epic trilogy, we see our heroes face death, fight for rebirth, and ultimately deal with the consequences of their actions. In The Wrath of Khan, I presented that the story, while a fan favorite, was little more than a retelling of Moby Dick, told from the perspective of the whale (there’s a joke to be had in William Shatner playing a whale – you know it and I know it). Even despite the fact that it was a continuation of the nearly forgotten Space Seed episode from 1967, and the glaring problems with the events in the story, on the whole, the movie is remember for the brilliant score by James Horner, and a brilliantly-played-out space battle. And, of course, Kirk’s epic cry, “KHAN!” So now, let’s take a look at the second installment of this trilogy, the one that deals with rebirth.

Star Trek III Search for Spock Klingons Kruge

The Klingons we wanted, but not the Klingons we deserved.
That’s John Larroquette on the left.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
The Summary:
Our story begins where the last one left off, replaying the scene of Spock’s death and funeral, followed by Spock himself reciting the opening mantra from the television series (“Space… the final frontier…”). The Enterprise limps home after an unspecified amount of time, still bearing the wounds of her encounter with the Reliant. By this time, we discovered that Dr. McCoy is mentally unstable, the result of Spock placing his Katra, essentially the Vulcan version of a soul, inside the doctor’s mind. The movie goes to great lengths to remind us that Spock is dead.

Once back in Spacedock, the crew is given extended leave, and will be awarded Starfleet’s highest honor. We discover that Mr. Scott has been promoted to Captain, and assigned to the new U.S.S. Excelsior, and that the 20-year-old Enterprise is to be decommission, rather than repaired and refit. All of the senior crew were anxious to head back to the Genesis Planet, but while they were returning, the Genesis Planet (and presumably the project that created it) had become increasingly controversial, and they were forbidden from returning. Of course, Kirk vowed to return anyway, because Spock’s father, Sarek, made it clear that Spock wasn’t really dead – and Dr. McCoy would pay the price if they couldn’t get Spock’s katra back where it belonged.

So, Kirk, aided by Uhura, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu, and with McCoy in tow, set about hijacking the nearly derelict Enterprise and using it to travel to the forbidden Genesis Planet, after, of course, Mr. Scott sabotaged the only ship faster than the Enterprise, the aforementioned Excelsior. While this is happening, the only ship authorized to explore the newly formed planet, the U.S.S. Grissom, had sent Saavik and Kirk’s son, David, to the planet to survey signs of possible life. They discover that Spock’s funeral tube had soft-landed and the microbes on the surface of the tube had evolved at a break-neck pace. They also discover that a newly rejuvenated Spock is also wandering about the surface with an empty mind.

Simultaneously, a spy with the Federation has gotten their hands on the information on Genesis and sent it to a Klingon, Captain Kruge (played brilliantly by Christopher Lloyd), who intends to learn its secrets for developing a weapon. They head to the planet only to discover the Grissom, which they destroy (accidentally). Heading to the surface, they begin to hunt the away team, in order to learn more about the planet and the Genesis project. The Enterprise catches up, but Sulu is too good at spotting anomalies and they were prepared better for the Bird of Prey than the Grissom, despite being almost fully automated. After a brief battle, both ships are left helpless, but Kruge has hostages, and killed David to get Kirk to surrender, despite their belief that the secret of Genesis was that it didn’t work, and it wasn’t worth killing for. Feigning defeat, Kirk, Chekov and Scotty set the ship to self-destruct and escape to the surface. All but two of the Klingons, Kruge, and his engineer, Malz (played by John Larroquette) head over to the Enterprise, only to be blown up in glorious fashion. Kirk knows that their only chance to escape the rapidly failing planet is to use the Klingon ship, so he goads Kruge down into a final confrontation, and eventually is able to join the others on the ship.

Escaping just in time, the group heads to Vulcan so that Spock’s katra  can be returned to his now-adult, and now-living body once more. At the end, we’re shown that Spock, while clearly not himself, still remembers his friends, and the credit roll with the whole group greeting their old comrade.

What’s Wrong?
Well, let’s start with the the Genesis Planet. According to the Admiral, the Genesis Planet was highly controversial. My main question is, “Why?” I mean, obviously Kirk sent in a report to Starfleet, and Starfleet was aware of the specifics of the project. It wasn’t ready, obviously, but why would it be controversial now, but not while it was being planned? It doesn’t make sense. Further, how did anyone even know what had happened. If there was so much secrecy that only a few people knew about it, wouldn’t Kirk’s report been similarly classified? Let’s make another assumption and say that maybe the  Federation Council didn’t know what was going on, and that Kirk’s report got into their hands first. I can see that causing a stir, and I can further see them limiting the traffic to the planet, but really, it’s a far stretch.

And how did an obviously half-Klingon spy get her hands on the Genesis plans in the first place. Let’s think about this for a second. On the Project team, only Carol and David Marcus were left alive, and I doubt either of them sold it. Since Kirk was an Admiral, it’s safe to say that only he and people above him knew the full details of the project, and I doubt any of them sold out. That leaves the Reliant and Enterprise crews, so I guess some of them might – but how? I mean didn’t they get rid of money? And how is it that the Klingons even knew to look into it? It’s not like the Mutara sector is anywhere near Klingon space. And this thing was such a big secret that Spock didn’t even know about it.

That brings me to the Grissom. In Star Trek lore, the Reliant is a Miranda-class Cruiser, while the Grissom is an Oberth-class Light Cruiser. I know it doesn’t seem like a big distinction, but let’s put things in perspective. The Miranda-class ships were also used as escorts and patrols, mainly because they were smaller and more easily maneuvered than the heavier and larger Constitution-class ships, despite being nearly as heavily armed. The Oberth-class ships were used primarily for research and observation only, and were lightly armed so that they could carry batter scanning gear. So my question is, “Why the hell wasn’t the Grissom the scanning for lifeless planets for Project Genesis, and the Reliant the one sent to protect the planet while it was being studied? If there was so much danger and controversy, I would have thought that they would have sent ship better prepared for a possible attack. The Grissom was destroyed with a single torpedo. A well-aimed torpedo, but a single torpedo nonetheless. The Reliant took a torpedo and multiple unshielded phaser blasts, and while dead in space, it was intact. The Klingon Bird-of Prey, despite it’s heavy representation in the films and shows, was a scout-class ship, and not designed for heavy engagement. It would have been less than half the size of the Enterprise, but nearly the same size as the Grissom. Not really the kind of ship I’d want on the scene of a political hotbed.

And where the hell is Carol Marcus? Genesis was HER project, not David’s. And while I’m sure David played a large role, she was the project lead and should have been present on the Grissom. In fact, it would have made far more sense for her to be with David on the planet rather than Saavik, since Saavik was should still have been attached to the Enterprise as it’s Science Officer (which was her actual position as a cadet). In fact, since she was a Cadet (as evidence by her red turtleneck in Wrath), she shouldn’t have been assigned to the Grissom anyway, as I find it unlikely that she would be more qualified than any science officer on board an operating science vessel.  And to boot, she was wearing the white turtleneck of a Command officer rather than the grey of a science officer. I won’t even address the actress change other than to say it was an unfortunate turn of events, because I feel it changed the character for the worse. No, I think Saavik’s presence was a bit of “meta gaming” on the part of the writers. Her only real purpose was to be there to help Spock, but they weren’t supposed to know Spock’s tube was intact. In fact, ANY mention of returning to Genesis PRIOR to Sarek’s revelation of Spock’s possible survival through the transferrence of his katra seems out of place. That puts Kirk’s urgency in a whole new light – I mean since he didn’t know what was actually going on yet when the Admiral informed him Genesis was off limits, then why was he so anxious to return?

And then there’s the hijacking of Enterprise. I get how it wasn’t exactly “easy” to put all the pieces together in the short amount of time they had. But Scotty not only had enough time to sabotage the Excelsior’s Warp Drive computer, but he also had time to fully automate the Enterprise. Remember, these large Starships were designed to have hundreds of personnel managing all of their system all the time, so it actually makes sense that they would need something like this in place to manage the whole ship with only 5 people on board. I’m actually more concerned about how seemingly easy it as to set up, and seemingly impossible to fix. I’m also concerned that the intricate working of a starship can be completely disrupted without anyone noticing. I’ve decided that Kirk isn’t the real “Gary Stu” here, it’s Scotty. And Uhura was last seen holding a fellow officer at gunpoint and putting him into a closet. Yet, somehow, she was able to get off the Station and to Vulcan without being stopped.

Also, I know the Klingons are bloodthirsty honor-hounds, but I’m curious what makes Kruge think that he can take a fully-manned Cruiser with his handful of men. I mean WE knew that there were only 5 people, but Kruge had to think he was facing a ship with a crew of over 400. And once he knew his men had been killed, why wouldn’t he had just beamed up Saavik, and his remaining man, and made back to Klingon Space? Then, he could have had his revenge, and someone in custody to torture for secrets. That brings up another point – why did the Klingons kill David? He was obviously the one who knew the most about what was going on, and he would have been far more likely to give in to torture than a Vulcan. Kruge was a horrible Klingon.

This is my least favorite of the three installments, mostly because I didn’t like the change in Saavik. The original (played by Kirstie Alley) had a warmth that you wouldn’t expect from a Vulcan. Her tear at Spock’s funeral was excellently conveyed the gravity of the loss – even a Vulcan was moved to tears. Robin Curtis’ performance was TOO Vulcan. There was no emotion, even subdued Vulcan emotions. I think that’s the problem with MOST people who play Vulcans – they overplay them. They become monotone caricatures of Spock, and never really live up to that status. The original Saavik was the closest thing.

And one last thing -

The Problem with Khan, Spock and Whales – Part 1

Khan Ahab Star Trek

In Star Trek fandom there exists an amazing paradox. A single story, told in three parts, is one of the most beloved stories in all of the Star Trek Universe, but it has the most startling inconsistencies and the least original plot points of all the Trek offerings. And while all of us Trekkies, have a deep love of Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan and a fondness for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I can’t help but notice the glaring problems. So, while I know this will be unpopular, I want to point out the problems with Khan, Spock and Whales.

Khan Ahab Star Trek

If Khan is Ahab, than I guess that makes Kirk the Whale…

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The Summary:
After the stunning failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, the people at Paramount were looking for a way to repackage the franchise in a way that was still familiar to fans, but not so glaringly time-specific. The nearly monochromatic outfits, sterile sets, horrific haircuts and Kubrick-esque “V’Ger” scenes  featured in ST:TMP were clearly the best that 1979 had to offer, but they were just not what the fans wanted or expected. Even the connection to the past (presented in Stephen Collins‘ Commander Will Decker) wasn’t enough to get people to enjoy it. Aside from that, the “previously lost, but now sentient probe returns to Earth” story had been done already (in 1967’s, The Changling).

Desperate to please their rabid fans, the producers went about rethinking everything. Clearly, they needed a more exciting movie – most of ST:TMP had large segments with no action or dialogue; let’s face it, it was snooze city. They reworked nearly everything, except the exterior of the updated Enterprise – everything, that is, but the plot. The plot is a continuation of 1967’s Space Seed, in which the crew finds the derelict S.S. Botany Bay, lost in space since 1996. The ship contained genetic “supermen” from Earth’s violent past, who attempted to take control of the Enterprise, but ultimately failed (because Kirk is the ultimate Mary Sue… errr, Gary Stu). The “supermen”, led by Khan Noonien Singh (played brilliantly by Ricardo Montalban) were marooned on Ceti Alpha V, a planet with a harsh and primitive environment, but well within habitable requirements.

Fast forward 15 years, and Ceti Alpha V is a barren inhospitable and barely habitable world devoid of almost all life. Kahn resents Kirk for leaving him and his people on the planet, and for the death of his wife (presumably former Starfleet Historian, Lieutenant Marla McGivers). Khan’s a lucky man, though, because the USS Reliant is in the Ceti Alpha system looking for a planet on which to test Project Genesis, which is supposed to create a habitable planet from one devoid of life. The Reliant thinks it’s at Ceti Alpha VI and instead, finds Khan and his followers, ripe for vengeance. Fast Forward again, and Khan uses the Reliant to nearly destroy the Enterprise, but Kirk’s crafty 22nd century tactics are too much for Khan, who commits suicide by detonating the Genesis Device aboard the bridge of the Reliant. The Enterprise and her crew narrowly escape thanks to a last minute self-sacrifice from the always stalwart Mr. Spock.

What’s Wrong?
Let’s start with Ceti Alpha V. When Kirk and crew marooned the Augments (as the “supermen” are called in the Trek canon) on Ceti Alpha V, Kirk noted the event heavily in his log. While there wasn’t specifically a beacon or warning in place for the planet, it can be assumed that other Starfleet Captains would have been made aware of what happened, and made a routine of avoiding the system, just in case. Khan was extremely dangerous, and despite his brave departure (he quoted Milton – “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”), it can be assumed that he wasn’t too keen on being stranded on a hostile world. So it could be assumed that while there probably wasn’t a regulation about avoiding the planet (like there was for Talos IV – the planet of from 1966’s The Menagerie, the Original Series’ only two-part episode), it would have been widely accepted as “off limits.”

So why was Reliant even IN the Ceti Alpha system looking for dead worlds? And why didn’t they know that one of the worlds was inhabited? At this point in the Trek timeline, Starfleet is still somewhat small, at least compared to the size of it in The Next Generation (only a few dozen ships at most). The fraternity of Captains would be even smaller still. And while I can accept that the Captain of the Reliant might not have met Kirk, I find it highly unlikely that he didn’t know about the Khan incident. Khan tried to seize a Federation ship and kill its crew. A starfleet officer commited treason. Even if Captain Terrell was a young officer, there’s no way he hadn’t been in Starfleet at least 15 years. He’s the captain of a Cruiser – they don’t let just anyone run those things. I find it unlikely that he wouldn’t have known what happened. Even worse, the assignment for checking the planet came from Starfleet who surely knew that the Ceti Alpha system was inhabited and by whom.

Another glaring problem is with the Reliant’s scanners. It would seem that the Genesis team is confident enough in Starfleet’s scanning technology that it trusts them to find a lifeless rock (in a habitable zone, of course), so it stands to reason that they would be able to tell when a whole planet is missing. It’s incredibly unlikely (I’m saying that word a lot) that previous scans of Ceti Alpha VI would have matched the “new” version of Ceti Alpha V. The planet’s mass, composition and atmosphere would have had to have been very different, even comparing the original Ceti Alpha VI to the new Ceti Alpha V. It wasn’t an unexplored sector, even if it was pretty far out. We know this because THE ENTERPRISE HAD BEEN THERE. This is a glaring oversight, in my opinion.

More disturbing than that, even, is the fact that the Reliant’s sensors – the same sensors that are being relied on to find a LIFELESS planet – cannot detect the presence of the remaining Augments OR the Ceti Eels (and I’ll get to those in a second). And while I know there was a storm and some Craylon Gas, but neither of those things should have blocked the scanners, because they weren’t enough to block the transporters. So how is it that they thought that there was only “pre-animate matter” on the surface? It seems clear that they were trying to show some negligence on the part of the Crew – it was implied that  they’d been searching for a suitable planet for some time – or they were just lazy.

And what about those Ceti Eels? There were so many of them 15 years ago that they killed many of Khan’s original crew, but so few now that they can’t been seen by a starship’s scanners? Khan doesn’t indicate how many Ceti Eels are left, only that they killed 20 of his people, including his wife, but there would have had to have been a shard decline in population since there wasn’t a readily available food source. And how were they reproducing? Without enough food, animals stop reproducing to keep food supplies from running out (and from a lack of nutrition). Yes, the Ceti Eel that Khan kept as a “pet” had more than one offspring on its back. And, presumably, there were more outside. The implausibility of a major climate change leaving only a single species is incredible. They would have all died off very quickly without food, and there weren’t enough of Khan’s people to keep a large population fed.

Speaking of food – what were Khan’s people eating? The cargo containers were “gifts” from the Enterprise, supplied to start a small colony. But I doubt there were 15 years’ worth of supplies. The state of their clothing seems to indicate that (even Khan was no longer wearing the clothes he left with in 2267).  It can be assumed they would have been able to make more clothing, or that there were some outfits in the supplies from the original Botany Bay, but the clothes being worn were almost not clothes anymore. Food would have lasted less time. Remember that Ceti Alpha V was a hostile, but habitable planet, so Kirk knew there was food to be had, , land to farm and animals to hunt. But after 6 months, all of that disappeared quickly. So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they had a year’s worth of supplies. Even genetic “supermen” couldn’t make a year’s worth of food last 15 years. Were they eating the Ceti Eels? And interesting form of revenge. Maybe it helps account for Khan’s erratic behavior. IN any event, assuming they ate the only indigenous life form left on the planet, then why were there so few that the scanners couldn’t pick them up? And if there were only a few left, why wasn’t it ever mentioned how close to extinction they were? IN fact, aside from the obvious environemental difficulties, and their predation by the Eels, no other hardships are really mentioned by Khan.

Now about the Genesis Planet. When Khan uses the Genesis device , both the Reliant and the Enterprise were within the Mutara Nebula. Presumably, because neither ship was warp-capable at that point, the Nebula was close to Regula, where the ships started their chase. It can be implied, though it’s never stated, that “Full impulse” is just under the speed of light. It’s also implied, though never stated, that “full” impulse isn’t available when the warp drives are offline, mainly because the reactors are powering the entire ship, not just propulsion. So let’s say that they can travel at half the speed of light, and it only takes them a couple of minutes to get into the Nebula from Regula. I propose that the Mutara Nebula was, in fact, the remains of the star around which Regula orbited. Remember that. The explosion from the Genesis device was so powerful that even moving at top speed on unassisted impulse, the Enterprise was going to be caught in the blast wave (and, presumably, reorganized like all the other nearby matter). In fact, Spock getting the warp drive back online, and the Enterprise’s subsequent jump to warp are all that saved them. This also means that the Nebula was within what we would consider the confines of the Regula planetary system (keeping in mind that at 1/2 the speed of light, it would take us 8 minutes to travel to Mars when it’s at its closest to Earth). And I’m being generous here, if the ships were moving more slowly, that means the Nebula is even closer to the planet.

According to canon, the Genesis Planet was created from the debris inside the Nebula. But where did the star come from? If there had been a viable star at Regula, they would have just used Regula as the test planet. Regula had to have been a rogue planet, because any nova that could have created the nebula would have destroyed any planets close enough to support life. Further, if it had been an outlying planet, it would have been more than a couple of minutes away under partial impulse (even at full impulse, really). Additionally, the Genesis Matrix wasn’t designed to create a star, but rather convert inorganic matter into organic building blocks. So where did the star come from? We see one when Spock’s Casket-tube is shot at the planet. Where did it come from? If it IS the White Dwarf, then how did it survive the shockwave caused by the Genesis Wave? The same wave that was so destructive, it probably wiped out Regula and the Regula I station. And if the torpedo is THAT destructive, how would a planet have survived it?

I always assumed that the blast compressed the gas back into a star, and that the Genesis Planet was actually Regula. Makes more sense to me that way.

There are plenty of other things that irk me about this movie, but I truly love it. I like the consistency that it created with the second installment of the story. We like to pretend that The Motion Picture never happened, but it’s still evident. Kirk’s reluctance to take over the Enterprise from Spock has less to do with Kirk’s respect for his friend, and more to do with his previous experience in assuming command (from Will Decker). Aside from this movie being essentially Moby Dick in Space, it’s an excellent story and it stands the test of time. Shatner’s resounding call of, “KHAN!” from the presumably lifeless interior of Regula is the stuff of legend, so much that it became a meme (along with “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few). Next, I’ll be looking at how these errors end up compounded when they went looking for Spock.

Oh yeah, and Khan never met Chekov, so how did he… You know what? Nevermind.

G.I. Joe: Right in the Childhood

No One Died in GI Joe

***WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***

Last week, I laid my money down to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation. As a child of the 80’s, the Joe’s are near and dear to my heart. And while I didn’t actually own any G.I. Joe action figures (Masters of the Universe was more my thing), I did watch the cartoon, and the cartoon movie. Some of the kids would bring some of their figures and the smaller vehicles to play with at recess. Yeah, not only did we get recess, but we were allowed to bring things from home to play with. Different times to be sure. I don’t think they would allow you to bring the tiny plastic guns into a school anymore, even though they are only about 2 inches long. Anyway, when they would cut the grass, it would pile up at the edge of a small wooded area on the edge of the school property. We would use the dried clippings, twigs and leaves to make forts, and the hedge apples were our weapons of mass destruction.

Ahh, the memories.

No One Died in GI Joe

Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Snake Eyes and Flint – Notice how none of them are DEAD?!

When G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, I was excited to see the “Real American Heroes” brought to life. I was willing to forgive that they weren’t using the most commonly known Joe characters (I don’t know anyone that had a “Ripcord” or “Breaker” figure), and the use of those suits was just plain silly. Joe’s were supposed to be the best of the best – they shouldn’t have needed suits to make them better. They fit it all into the plot, though. All in all, GIJ:ROC wasn’t a great movie, but it didn’t make me write off the franchise.

What I really didn’t like, though, was that Dr. Mindbender was practically an afterthought. I originally imagined that the “Doctor” character working with McCullen (Destro) was Mindbender, but when they showed him later in the film, I felt a little let down. I also didn’t like that the Baroness and Mindbender were basically written out of future stories when they are so integral to the Cobra organization.

Listen to me talk up G.I. Joe lore like I wrote it.

So let’s fast forward to 2013. The long-awaited sequel has arrived, and the previews really give the impression that Cobra has the upper hand. I’m prepared for a sequel along the lines of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. But that isn’t what I got. There was a tremendous opportunity here to create a sequel that not only surpassed the original, but set up a thrilling finale.

Instead of Wrath of Khan, we get The Motion Picture. Instead of Empire Strikes Back, we get Phantom Menace. What a waste.

Allow me to elaborate. The basic plot points of GIJ:ROC were as follows:

  • Highly trained soldiers are sent on a mission to protect a powerful weapon
  • Someone playing on both sides set them up to fail
  • All but a few members of the team are killed
  • The remaining members, with the help of a veteran officer, plan a mission to get back the weapon
  • The enemy uses the weapon to destroy an important site with the intent of striking fear into the hearts of the populace
  • A member of the enemy team discovers that their life has been manipulated and changes sides
  • That person is instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the enemy
  • The leader of the survivors is made the leader of the new team.

Now, allow me to sum up the plot of Retaliation:

  • Highly trained soldiers are sent on a mission to secure powerful weapons from an unstable government
  • Someone playing for both sides set them up to fail
  • All but a few members of the team are killed
  • The remaining soldiers, with the help of a veteran officer, plan a mission to avenge the fallen
  • The enemy uses a new weapon to destroy an entire city, with the intent of striking fear into the hearts of the public
  • A member of the enemy team discovers that their life has been manipulated and changes sides
  • That person is instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the enemy
  • The leader of the survivors is made the leader of the new team

Holy shit. It’s the same movie. The plots are nearly identical. Well, not literally identical, but the plots are close enough that they could be interchanged without affecting the flow of the story. I can forgive the minor inconsistencies – like Duke identifying himself as a Captain, but wearing a Major’s oak leaf insignia – but it’s hard to overlook those things that don’t really make sense.

So the main characters are Duke, Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Flint, Snake Eyes, Jinx and General Colton. Where the hell is everyone else? The only carry overs are Duke and Snake Eyes. Ripcord, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Breaker and General Hawk are all MIA. They make is seem like the previously massive (and multi-national) G.I. Joe force is limited to a single strike team made up entirely of Americans. There are no references to the previous team despite it having been something less than 4 years since the previous movie (considering that Zartan took over as the President in the last film and is still in that role in the new film). When Zartan framed the Joe’s for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan – which in and of itself doesn’t jive since his entire command staff was in the room when he ordered the Joe’s in to secure the warheads – he says that the G.I. Joe’s were “terminated with extreme prejudice”. That’s jargon for “kill on sight” and furthers the implication that Duke was the only commander and that his team was the only team.

Here’s what should have happened:
Duke shouldn’t have died at the beginning. That’s too easy. It gives the team something to fight for that the audience can relate too. In the first movie, Duke was motivated by the destruction of his team, but from the audience perspective, it’s just not as powerful. Duke is beloved, the average Joe is not. No, it would have been far better to have Duke die near the end, secretly by the hand of Storm Shadow (who was siding with the Joe’s because he’d been manipulated by Zartan as a child – It would have made much for sense for the whole thing to be a set-up by Cobra Commander). That way, like in Wrath of Khan, even though it may look like the good guys win, the question will be “at what cost?” The movie should have ended with the Joe’s foiling Cobra’s plan to destroy the world, but with Zartan still intact as President and the Joe’s in hiding. Bad Guys win. That’s what I wanted to see. That would make me want to see a final installment where I know the Joe team will win. A final installment with Scarlet, Shipwreck and Gung Ho. The final scene should have been Baroness retrieving Destro from the cryo-prison – or what’s left of it – and with the knowledge that he, Cobra Commander and Zartan are still in play.

What we have now is: Cobra Commander on the run, Baroness out of play, Destro likely killed when the prison exploded, Zartan possibly dead (Storm Shadow killed him, but the nanomites had incredible healing properties and he could have survived) and Storm Shadow on his own. And the Joe’s, well, you can’t have any of them from the first movie since it was made clear that the only Joe survivors were Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint. And the Joe’s win. And it was WAY too easy. I mean the plan to put Zartan in place as President and set up the Zeus satellites had to take years to come to fruition. And The Joe’s took it down in hours. It just would have been a lot better of a movie if Cobra won.

And someone needs to remind the producers that in G.I. Joe… everyone gets a parachute.

That means no one is supposed to die.

The Baying of the Dickwolf

Cosplay is not Consent

At some point, and in the not-so-distant past, people lost their ever-loving minds. Collectively, we’ve gone a bit daft, at least as it relates to how we treat women. Being a bit behind in my news reading, I’ve just stumbled across the “Cosplay is Consent” story from PAX East (I read the piece written by Jill Pantozzi on The Mary SueI follow them, you should too). The first line of the article struck a chord with me, particularly the beginning: “Convention harassment is just an off-shoot of regular, old harassment but seeing it invade your ‘safe space’ can be tough to stomach.”

Cosplay is not Consent

So does the way these women dress give you the right to assault them?

 

It made me think about the recent events in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players were recently convicted of sexually assaulting (read: RAPING) a fellow female student. At first glance, you might wonder how I could compare two wildly different events. After all, the ladies at PAX East were merely dressed as Lara Croft, not drunk and unconscious at a party. The cosplayers weren’t physically assaulted like the young lady in Steubenville either. But I believe the root cause is the same – the notion that the victims somehow invited their attacks.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this trying to find the point in time when we decided, as a people, that women were responsible for how men act. We joke about it constantly – lots of comedians have made the “detachable penis” joke, and some even carry it into “my wife keeps my dick in her purse”. And to a certain extent, a man’s behavior is affected by the woman in his life, because men and women think differently, and he has to adjust his thinking to suit her needs. But that door swings both ways, and I think as a society, we ignore that. We place an inordinate amount of responsibility on women to act a certain way – with the idea that if they do, men will also act a certain way. When some men invariably fail, our society has been trained to find what happened; who was at fault, how did this seemingly moral person fall into deprivation  Those girls dressed as a sexy video game character, well they should know that dressing sexy makes men lustful and when men are lustful, the stop thinking with the heads up top, right?

That’s so offensive to me as a man, that I can’t accurately convey it.

Back to the research – as I was reading, I kept seeing the same themes over and over again: women as corruptors and men as mindless. The funny thing is, that even in societies where women were considered property, they were still revered and protected, and rarely reviled. One major root of our perception seems to be firmly planted in our Judeo-Christian foundations. In the Bible, God created Adam first, and then created Eve by removing one of Adam’s ribs. In Hebrew, the word “woman” is אישה or ishah literally means “from man” (the Hebrew for “man” is אִישׁ or ish). This concept is not universal, though. In most Indo-European languages, the words for Man and Woman are completely different (German: Mann and Frau; French: Homme and Femme; Greek: Anthropos and Gynaika; Hungarian: Férfi and – even the non-IE language shares the concept). Even in other Semitic languages, the words are different (Arabic: Rájul and Imrá’a). The Hebrews specifically looked at woman as being derived from man.

Now remember, Eve was tricked by the Serpent into eating the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which is itself telling, since when they realized they were naked, they felt it was wrong…yeah…) and she in turn fed the fruit to Adam. When they were discovered, Adam didn’t say he was sorry, he said “She made me do it.” Similarly, in the Greco-Roman creation myth, man was created by Prometheus, but woman was created by the gods (sounds nice but  wait for it)… as a punishment for accepting fire from the Titan who created them. Her name was Pandora, and she was sent to men bearing a gift of a large jar (or box) which she later opened, releasing all the woes and ills into the world. In fact, Epimethius (her husband) and she had the first marital spat as a result. The Romans used the same story. SO as you can see, while they viewed women as a gift, they also saw them as the source for all the wickedness, strife and problems in the world.

So we are faced with two archaic concepts from our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman background that are working in tandem against us: woman are derivative from men, and thus lesser, and women are the source of wickedness and hardship. Hardly seems fair.

So back to the case in point – this “journalist” at PAX. I use quotes because being a good writer doesn’t make you a journalist. With the exception of tabloid media outlets, generally there is an accepted decorum involved between journalists and their subjects. I think it would have been a little different if this guy had just written his opinions into his piece. Sure there would have been some backlash, as there should be, but he could at least hide behind his right to share his own opinions, as ill-formed as they may be. However, when you actually approach and speak to someone, with the intent of publishing that response, you need to have some respect for the individual. The best display of the dichotomy involved is that Meagan Marie, the individual who confronted the offending “journalist”, has opted not to give his name, or the name of the publication which he represented (both were asked to leave the convention). She knew that the online community would rally to the call, as would the “dickwolves” (to borrow from imagery from Penny Arcade), and the shitstorm would ensue. Even still, enough is getting said to unsettle me (and make me want to write this).

So if you’ve read about the incident, you’ll know that the offending individual continued making negative comments along the lines of “they were asking for it by dressing that way”, and that’s where the parallel lies with Steubenville. The Defense wanted to call into question the young lady’s past, probably to build off the idea that she somehow went into the party with the expectation of having sex. But really what they were saying was, “she asked for it” by acting or dressing a certain way. And that brings us back to the “Dickwolves”.

Men, this part is for you. You should be offended by the idea that you have no innate control over your sexual urges. You should be insulted at the notion that a woman has such control over you that seeing any amount of flesh turns you into a sex crazed lunatic. You should speak out against the concept that our base state is that of a rapist.

Women, this part is for you. Be who you are. If you want to dress like Wonder Girl, or Lara Croft, or anyone else, then by god, do it. And do it with the knowledge that while there are some seriously damaged people who will revile you for it, the rest of us love you, and sit in awe of your beauty and skill.

And if you see someone assaulting or being abusive to a cosplayer of either sex: step in, interrupt and ask them if they’d like an escort to an volunteer. And remember boys:

Cosplay is not Consent

I think the sign says it all.

Who Really Wants Armed Bears?

*** UPDATE – 9 April, 2013 ***

I’m not normally one for updating posts, but this issue is important. This morning, a student at Lone Star Community College in Cypress, TX, went on a stabbing spree (I’ve never heard the term, so I get credit for it), wounding at least 14 people, some of them seriously, before being subdued by authorities.

Why is this important? Because what we have is a mass murder attempt that was made without a gun. It deflates the argument that guns or access to guns, semi-automatic or otherwise, is the root cause of gun violence and mass murder. What we have here is evidence that someone like Adam Lanza or James Holmes can still inflict a large number of casualties even without a gun. People intent are harm will commit harm. It shows that despite a leaning in this country to ban guns and rifles, they aren’t the only weapons available. Anything can be a weapon when someone is properly motivated.

I’m inclined to wonder, though… would this attacker have been so bold if he thought that one of the people he was attacking might be armed with a gun? Lone Star College System doesn’t permit firearms on their grounds, except as allowed by law (read: only police and military). On the flip side, if one of them HAD been armed, it’s likely that the assailant would have been killed rather than placed in police custody. None of the people he’s attacked are dead as of this writing, but 2 of the 14 are in critical condition. The attacks seem to have been carried out with a box cutter or Xacto knife.

So what will we ban next? Pocket knives? Baseball bats and lacrosse sticks? Power tools?

-PD

******

Since the tragic events of December 14th, 2012, when Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and unloaded an array of semi-automatic weapons into the staff and children, there has been a great nation debate about firearms and the American People. I thought, since I hadn’t written in a while, I would toss in my thoughts.

Sandy Hook - Red Dawn - Gun Control

Who didn’t want to be a Wolverine?

I spent the evening discussing this on Facebook with a friend from high school, and in doing some research, I’m shocked at the irresponsible nature that this has been reported. There have been conflicting reports and apologies about what guns where found where, and what people are supposedly actors. I mean the Conspiracy Theorists have had a field day with all of this (some people actually think the whole thing was staged in order to disarm us). So, I spent some time last night looking into the facts and arguments and I felt like a few points needed to be clarified.

  • The guns on site were all semi-automatic, and widely available for purchase. Adam Lanza was actually denied when he attempted to purchase a rifle himself, which is probably why he killed his mother – to get her guns
  • “Assault Rifles” are long barreled automatic rifles designed for military use. “Assault Weapons”, as defined by US Law, are just about any weapons they decide to put into this category. Currently, depending on state, this category can include all semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns… basically almost every gun on the market
  • The police are reporting it correctly – the media is getting it wrong
  • One of the guns was an AR-15 “Bushmaster”. This is the gun from which the M-16 was derived and was specifically designed for law enforcement use.
  • The Bushmaster was equipped with a 30-round magazine, which is a standard size for this weapon. Compared to the 60 and 100 round capacity magazines available for the AR-15, 30 rounds hardly seems “high capacity”

The amount of misinformation surrounding this event isn’t just astounding, it’s alarming. If we can’t rely on our news outlets to supply us with good information, how in the world are we supposed to know who and what to support. Not that we should be relying on them to tell us these things, but invariably we do. At least you would think they would try to take that responsibility to heart, but instead they just sensationalize things to make people want to watch. It’s not about the truth anymore, it’s about what hooks viewers. And while I’m not a Conspiracy Theorist, it isn’t hard to see how easy it would be for the government to use the media to manipulate the masses. I mean we accused the Soviets of doing it for decades, so we know it can be done. Why is it so far-fetched that we’d use it on ourselves? I mean 4 Americans die in the Embassy attack in Benghazi, and you barely hear about it, but some kid from Notre Dame makes up a girlfriend and it’s headline news for two weeks. Really?! Our priorities are a bit out of line, I think.

But that’s only part of the equation in this even, isn’t it? There are a multitude of cultural issues to deal with here, but we really seem preoccupied with the Second Amendment argument. Of course, when the Second Amendment was written, it was common practice for governments to forbid it’s citizenry from having weapons, or more commonly, for them to oppress the people because they were too poor to have weapons. In America, though, because of the frontier nature of the colony, guns were practically a necessity. It’s bred into us, this need for guns. Don’t you find it funny, though, that the only Amendments you ever hear about are the First and Second? Every now and then, when a white collar criminal is on trial, you’ll hear about the Fifth (or more specifically “pleading” it). We know about “illegal search and seizure”, but why is it illegal? Which Amendment was that? Do you know them? Probably not, but I would say, “why don’t you?” How can we be good stewards of our own destinies without knowing from where our freedoms derive. I mean most people go around quoting the Declaration of Independence, but that document doesn’t have legal ramifications – it was simply a very strongly worded (and signed) letter to King George III.

There seem to be two main sides to the Second Amendment argument: the NRA and its supporters (who seem to think that we need to worry about our own Army turning on us), and those who think guns should be outlawed altogether (which just isn’t realistic). Actually, there is a third side, which includes people like me, who understand that while it’s probably not necessary for someone to use an AR-15 to defend their home, the problem really isn’t the guns – it’s our culture. As a trained shooter (I was in the military) I know that a hand gun is far more effective for home defense, and that there should be a certain amount of training involved for anyone trying to own a gun. I mean we force people to train to drive cars, why wouldn’t we force them to train to own a gun. Cars are just as dangerous. Probably more so. I also often hear about using them to hunt, but then I remember that the earliest Americans hunted mammoth and mastodon with simple bows, spears and rocks. BOWS AND SPEARS PEOPLE! If you need an AR-15 to hunt deer, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

So, would things have been different if Adam Lanza wouldn’t have had access to those guns? We can’t answer that. What we can do is look at the data, and understand that if he wanted to hurt those kids, there are hundreds of other ways he could have done it that don’t involve guns. We could also say that things could have been different if his mother accepted his illness and dealt with it appropriately… and didn’t own guns herself. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have had the right, I’m saying that it was irresponsible of her to have them knowing her son was unstable and could have access to them. Of course, we’ll never know for sure because she’s gone too.

What I DO know is that countries that have banned guns have much higher instances of violent crime per capita than the US does. We may have more gun-related crimes and deaths (duh), but guns are equalizers, and criminals know that. They are less likely to attack someone they think MIGHT have a gun, than they would be knowing the person was unarmed. Home invasions in Australia and Great Britain are significantly higher than in the US because the criminals know that there’s very little chance they can be confronted inside the home with a weapon. You see criminals will use knives and bats and pipes and whatever else they can get their hands on. Victims, on the other hand, usually don’t fight back if confronted with an armed assailant. We would be trading one sort of violence for another because, let’s face it, we are a violent species.

The truth is that bad things happen, and it sucks and there’s nothing we can do about it. We always look for someone to blame, because we can’t believe that we ourselves can be at fault. I think it’s clear we are. We ignore the mentally ill. We favor guns over common sense as we cling to the fears of bygone days. I blame Red Dawn. It “proved” to us that one day, foreign (or domestic) invaders will give us a need to have these powerful military-grade weapons in our homes. It’s perpetuated by cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic concepts like the Revolution and Road Warrior. We’re taught that if we don’t have weapons, we become easy prey to those who would take advantage of that weakness. I mean every kid I knew either wanted to be a Goonie or one of the Wolverines.

Does this mean I get to blame Patrick Swayze?

The Problem with Paradoxes

I'm confused just looking at it...

First, I wanted to apologize for the delay in getting another post written. I was writing a post on education that kept dissolving into a bitter diatribe about everything that’s wrong with the education system in America today, and I didn’t want it to be about that. So I’ve shelved it for another time – possible when there isn’t so much political rhetoric floating around.

On a happier note, I went to see Looper; science fiction’s latest foray into a quagmire of another sort – time travel. I’m not sure if objectively-minded men really thought about the possibilities of traveling back or forward through time before H.G. Wells wrote his famous novella on the topic, but Lord knows that we do now. There’s hardly a franchise in science fiction that hasn’t at least skirted the subject of time travel. Some, like Doctor Who and Back to the Future have even built themselves around it. It’s so popular, in fact, that we’ve built real scientific theory around something that may not even be possible. Theories like the “causality loop”, better known as the “Predestination Paradox”.

I’m confused just looking at it…

Now some of you might not of heard of a causality loop before, but I guarantee most of you have seen one in action. It’s the idea that the act of going back in time is what created the possibility of going back in time. Terminator probably best illustrated this principal – John Connor, rebel leader of the future, sent the man into the past that would become his own father, and event that HAD to occur in order for him to be born in order to commit the act. This is why causality loops are called Predestination Paradoxes.  Sometimes, the writers are so good at telling the story we don’t see the paradox. In Back to the Future, for example, the primary theme is the Grandfather Paradox, the question about what would happen if you happened to alter your own family history (usually posed as “what would happen if you went back in time and killed your own grandfather – meaning you would cease to exist – which would then mean you couldn’t kill your grandfather). But in watching Back to the Future as many times as I have, you see the subtle causality loop. You see, because they combine the two concepts, you lose the idea that Doc Brown knew all along that Marty had to go back in time. The whole reason Marty and the Doc are friends is because Doc Brown knew this and had to foster Marty’s character into one that would fill the eventual need. So, everything he said prior to Marty traveling back in time was carefully orchestrated because he KNEW that it would work. It’s easy to overlook because we are focused on the fact that Marty changed reality for himself. And this is where Back to the Future was genius without doing it on purpose. The created the idea of a time traveler exists outside the paradox (unless the paradox affects them directly, and then there is time to correct it… or there wouldn’t be a story). Franchises like Doctor Who (which really took time travel to a whole new level), ignore the paradox concept entirely, mainly because, in the words of the immortal Doctor, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I think my favorite representation of a causality loop was in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode Time’s Arrow, a two-parter, presented a story in which the Enterprise is called back to Earth because a geologic team discovered what appeared to be Data’s head in a cavern with artifacts from Earth’s 19 century. The loop was created when they found the head, and completed when Data’s head was lost in the past and he was reconnected with that head in the future. It’s a great presentation of a causality loop, and it was a great story. Causality loops were a favorite story-telling tool of the franchise. A fact illustrated by the fact they used them in nearly every iteration of the franchise, including the MMO, Star Trek Online.

Back to Looper. I won’t go into any specifics about the because I don’t like spoilers any more than you do. But based on what we already know from the trailer and marketing pieces, we know that it involves hit men who kill people sent back into the past from the future, eventually leading to them killing their future selves, thereby “closing the loop”. I’ve always like the Terminator flavor of time travel – a one way affair that only goes into the past. Usually, when people are sent back to a time predating the invention of time travel, they either have the machine, or they can be retrieved by the people in the future (see the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme Sci-Fi jaunt, Time Cop as an example).

Another great example of a causality loop was the 2002 interpretation of the aforementioned Time Machine. After the hero travels to the future, after failing hundreds of times to save his dead fiance in the past, he meets the Über-Morlock, who proceeds to explain the Predestination Paradox to him in stunning simplicity. He has to explain, to this seemingly brilliant man, that he couldn’t change the past because that’s why he traveled to the past. Get it? You see, the poor man finished the time machine so he could save his dear love. If he saved her, he never would have been driven to complete his project, and thus never had the chance to save her. Now the paradox is clear, isn’t it? And that’s what makes Time Travel so tricky, and why Doc Brown wanted to destroy his own time machine. In his own words, “I wish I’d never invented that infernal time machine. It’s caused nothing but disaster.”

Let’s hope we never figure this one out.

Where No Han Has Gone Before

Shit's about to get real.

One of the unwritten rules of geekdom is that you have to pick a universe to be your favorite, and that you will defend it tirelessly against the non-believers. Nowhere is this more evident than with Star Trek and Star Wars. Anyone who’s been following me for a while will know that this is a repost of sorts – I’m updating a piece I wrote for Geek Shui back in July of 2010. It’s a popular topic; and by popular, I mean it makes people want to hack off each other’s limbs with light sabers and set phasers to kill.

Shit’s about to get real.

OK before we continue, I wanted to go over a few Rules of Engagement (who knew I would find a use for the Law of Armed Conflict outside the military… and yes, there is such a thing… and yes, they enforce it… back on topic now):

  • First, there will be no “magic” or bending of the physical “laws” of the universe. No Jedi. No Sith. No Q – we’re pitting tech against tech, here, not mythology against mythology. Besides, the Q are all powerful and could simply will the force out of existence or, for that matter, will everyone into sponges
  • Second, while I might mention the Borg, they will not be a player, mainly because they don’t play nice with anyone and would likely just end up a third faction – besides, the Borg would likely win in a “Mary Sue-less” environment. Why? Because one cube would be all they need to adapt to the technology and more cubes would come. ‘Nuff said
  • Everything considered MUST be canonical. We’ll talk about that in a moment
  • Lastly, everyone has their own opinions on this – if you plan to comment, please try to back up your arguments with some sort of data. And for the Yoda’s sake, be respectful

Comparing Star Trek and Star Wars is a popular concept. The battle cries are many, and the banner has even been flown at the highest levels (I’m talking about the famous interview exchanges that went on between Bill Shatner and Carrie Fisher). There are a few sites that have already gone into great detail about how the Empire would trounce the Federation (and anyone else in the Trek universe), but I found that a lot of it is based more on guessing and fanaticism than an actual impartial view of the “science” involved. In doing research on the topic (both in the past and again as I write this), here’s what I discovered:

Taking the incredible lapse of time out of the equation (mostly because quite honestly the tech in the Star Wars universe has been mostly stagnate for at least 40,000 years), the science used in each of the Universes is very different. This is probably because Lucas was writing pulp science fiction based on old-time serials, and Roddenberry was creating an idyllic future for mankind. Those very different motives meant very different approaches to the “science”. Roddenberry was bound by what he knew our technology was in the 60’s, and where it could possibly reach in 300 years. Lucas was only bound by his own imagination.

What that means for the “science” is that while Star Trek is lousy with scientific theory and rhetoric, Star Wars has very little. For example, we hear all the time about Warp Drive and the principles of Space-Time. There are technical manuals and jargon and all sorts of explanations as to how things work. But we have no idea how FTL travel works in Star Wars, only that they call it “traveling through hyperspace”. We know they have red laser and green lasers, but no idea how light sabers contain the energy into blade form. Lucas, quite simply, didn’t care. It didn’t add to the story. It was a Space Opera, not Science Fiction.

That doesn’t mean the fans didn’t have at it, though. Both universes have spawned countless variations and tales, add-ons and continuations of the original stories. Star Trek had “The Animated Series“, Star Wars had “Droids“. This gets us into a discussion on what is canon and what isn’t. With Trek, canon is defined as anything that appears on film or television with the exception of The Animated Series, which is very specifically non-canon (despite their use of the original cast for voice-over work). Additionally, Paramount (who owns the property), has licensed the name and intellectual property for non-fiction reference books which are also tied to the canon (though not always canon themselves). Further complicating the matter is the fact that the Star Trek canon often contradicts itself, mainly because Gene Roddenberry had no idea his show would mean so much to people. He wasn’t worried about keeping the integrity of the timeline intact. One example would be in the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, Spock mentions that “one of his ancestors” was human – later it was his mother (hardly an ancestor). Further, the character is smug and demeaning. Also, it mentions that they were traveling outside the galaxy, which was later changed because of the immensity of that prospect. So in trying to keep it simple, after Roddenberry left us, his legacy was managed so that we could make sense of it. So, in essence, if you didn’t WATCH it, and or it wasn’t live actors, it isn’t canon.

In Star Wars, it’s different. George Lucas is still alive and very much a part of defining what is in isn’t canon. In his mind, the only canonical items are those from the movies (i.e. the movies themselves, the radio play and the novelizations – and any work that comes from them specifically). Lucasfilms has said that with so much work out there, they do their best to reconcile everything and make it work. I think the best example of this is when George Lucas was asked where Anakin got his scar in Episode III. His reply:

“I don’t know. Ask Howard. That’s one of those things that happens in the novels between the movies. I just put it there. He has to explain how it got there. I think Anakin got it slipping in the bathtub, but of course, he’s not going to tell anybody that.”

I think that explains a lot.

So let’s look at the universes themselves. Star Wars tends to do things on a massive, epic scale (which is why I think people choose them as the favorites to win in a confrontation). But with that in mind, there seem to be come major inconsistencies as it relates to the power output of their ships, – which is what makes an “apples-to-apples” comparison so difficult. Star Wars measures its power output in watts (W), which is a concept with which most of us are familiar. It’s the unit that measures how much work it takes to move an object one meter in one second against a force of one newton (N). Ooooh, science-y. Star Trek on the other hand, measures the power output of its craft in dynes (dyn)(which actually makes more sense from a propulsion standpoint). A dyne is the unit which measures how much force it takes to accelerate a mass of one gram one centimeter per second per second. Brain hurt yet?

What we need to know, then is how watts compare to dynes. In relative terms, a newton is equal to 100,000 dynes. So that means it would only require a single watt to move an object one meter per second against the force of 100,000 dynes. You have some grey matter leaking from your ears – you should take care of that.

Now, let’s get to comparing ships. A single Imperial-I Class Star Destroyer (which is about 1600 meters long – a little more than twice the length of Enterprise-E) has a reactor that produces 7.75 x 1024 W of power. Just to provide a little perspective, the flux capacitor from Back to the Future only requires 1.21 x 109 W of power to TRAVEL THROUGH EFFING TIME. The Sun – the life giving orb of boundless energy at the center of our Solar System but out about 4 x 1026  W of power, a mere 100 times that of the ISD. I don’t think that the materials they used could contain that amount of energy, but what do I know. Meanwhile, a standard Federation ship, in this case the U.S.S. Voyager, can produce roughly 4 x 1015  dyn of power (so using the earlier equation, about 4 x 1010  W). The ships in Star Wars ARE more massive, on the order of 10 to 20 times more, but that hardly requires 100 TRILLION (1014) times more power.

Maybe the Emperor wasn’t confident in his manhood…

I’ve just illustrated the first problem in comparing these two universes. And really, I think it’s because Star Trek is fundamentally different than any other type of Science Fiction involving space craft. Star Wars is more typical of the genre as it related to space battles, with said battles being more along the lines of those we are familiar with (you know, with fighters and large ships with marines and landing forces, etc). But Star Trek battles play out more like gun duels or barroom brawls. It wasn’t until much later in the history that space battles started to take on a more familiar (and massive-scale) approach, with the inclusion of smaller craft and large group tactics. Even then, ship-to-ship combat seemed to be the order of the day. To make a more naval comparison, Star Trek battles play more like submarine battles (with their heavy use of torpedoes and ship-to-ship tactics), while Star Wars battles play more like surface ship battles (with air/space fight support, landing forces and battle formations).

So what we’re left with is this: Star Wars overestimates and uses impossible physics while Star Trek just makes up units and particles, like “isotons” and “rapid nadions”. Comparing these two is like comparing Barack Obama to Mitt Romney; they’re both full of crap, but different kinds of crap. The last time I did this, I presented a scenario, but I feel like that it’s too easy to assume I’m not being objective, so I’ll just offer some basic comparisons and give example scenarios.

OK, so let’s look at tactics first. The Imperials strategy is based off of their numerical superiority, even when facing enemies in their own space. Star Warsis presented as being more populous than Star Trek, but I honestly think their Galaxy is much smaller than ours. There are about the same number of worlds in both universes, but it takes longer to get around in Star Trek and they only occupy about 5% of the galaxy. By comparison, the populated area of the Star Wars galaxy is about 50-60% of the total space.

Most of the races in Star Trek are humanoid, and they haven’t mastered automatons, like in Star Wars. That said, computer technology in Star Trek seems more advanced, particularly in the tactical sense. While computers are used in Star Wars the amount of missing going on in the blaster arena seems to allude to the idea that they aren’t computer guided. They may provide tactical assistance, but it’s never really seen. Scanners, likewise, seem to be more advanced in Star Trek, with an ability to scan for even very small items, inconsistencies in hull composition, propulsion trails, etc.

The weapons themselves are also very different. The beam weapons in Star Trek produce a beam of high energy particles called “nadions”. In the Star Trek Universe, they have the unique ability to affect nuclear bonds, which is why they create heat. In Star Wars, the weapons are actually plasma-based, though it’s never really discussed in detail. I’m assuming that based on the fact that they need to refine tibana gas for the blasters to work, and they can run out of “ammo”. That also means that the blasters aren’t just direct energy weapon, meaning that the shields on the Trek vessels might not be as effective, since they are designed to dissipate high energy weapons, not plasma. This is evident in the fact that the Romulans use plasma torpedoes, and they are highly effective. Ironically, those shields would be highly effective against Ion cannons.

The torpedo and missile type weapons are also completely different. Proton Torpedoes are slower and more like traditional warheads than Photon or Quantum Torpedoes. The Star Wars heavy weapons were designed for a multitude of purposes, including planetary bombardment, but were typically slow moving. They are traditional warheads; explosive, but because of standard ordinance. Photons, on the other hands, were actually more destructive because they used the annihilation of matter/anti-matter as the catalyst. They also moved at near light speed – too fast to be targeted and shot down. A single photon torpedo could destroy an entire city, while a proton torpedo would be more like destroying a few city blocks. Even from a capital ship.

So at the end of the day, Imperial ships are more powerful, but are inefficient at targeting because it’s hard to miss such large ships. Federation, Klingon and Romulan ships are smaller and produce less power, but have better weapons and targeting on the whole. The personnel are more plentiful on the Imperial side, but it seems like the Federation is better trained, Klingons have more will, and ROmulans a stronger sense of survival than the Imperials do. The Imperials have fighters, but the Trek side doesn’t need them because their ships are far more agile and capable of FTL speeds over shorter distances.

This is a “to-scale” representation of smaller ships and landing craft.

This is a scale representation for the larger vessels. See, a Romulan Warbird is nearly as large as an ISD.

I imagine it like this: A Sector Group of Imperials (for reference, the fleet at the Battle of Endor was a Sector Group – about 2,400 ships, including fighters) against a combined battle fleet of Federation (about 100 ships), Romulan (about 30 ships) and Klingon (about 40 ships) forces. The size of the ships isn’t as big a deal as you might think, making the fighters much less effective. The Trek computers track them too easily and they can’t outrun the beam weapons that don’t fire bolts, but rather continuous streams. Wide dispersal blasts of photons and phasers make being in an unshielded fighter a bad thing. Smaller Trek ships are easy pickings for the larger Imperial ships, though, and a Super Star Destroyer would make short work of any ship that approached too closely. I can imagine a couple of NeghVar battleships ramming into it and taking it out, though.  All in all, I think the Imperials would win in a single engagement, but a prolonged war would end in a Star Trek victory, mainly because they are more adaptive and would find ways to creatively destroy even the largest Imperial ships. I’m interested to know what you think, but rtemember, be respectful and try to stick to canon.

That means Han shot first, and Khan was the biggest badass of them all.

One Ringy Dingy

For the first time, I’m going to recap a topic I’ve covered previously; the very first one I did, actually. When I started writingHow Science Fiction Failed Us two years ago, I tried to stay true to the title as much as possible. I was inspired to write it after seeing some git nearly wreck his car because he was texting while driving, which made me think about the origins of the cell phone and how the idea had been inspired by science fiction. I don’t look at it quite that way anymore, I suppose (not the texting while driving part – anyone who does that deserves to be forcibly removed from the gene pool – I mean the articles). These have become more “op-ed” pieces; a place for me to share my thoughts on a given subject in a way where I don’t have to worry about who I might offend. It’s been a long journey, and I hope it gets longer.

Anyway, back on point. When I look back at that first piece, it was rather short, and really only focused on the aspect of us really being too irresponsible to have that level of technology, which is still true. But I wanted to look a little more at the subject.

Gordon Gecko – Trendsetter. Who knew we’d all look this stupid in 20 years?

So the other night, I went to the remake of the Total Recall, which I’m not going to get into here, but there was some great technology “previews” that got me thinking about where we are today, and where it appears that we’re heading. I re-watched the original 1990 version, and while I know that our collective vision of the future adapts as we create new technology, the differences between the two were striking, considering 1990 wasn’t all that long ago. What am I saying? It was over 20 years ago. Anyway, one of the more striking differences was in communication.

As you know, cell phones revolutionized communications in the early 90’s. We all watched Wall Street in 1987 – I’m thinking of the iconic scene of Michael Douglas on the beach talking on his DynaTAC 8000 – and suddenly we wanted to unplug. Cordless phones were already common, but going completely wireless was still out of reach for many. Most of us had to go through that awkward “pager” phase, which if you had one, you know was something akin to being “all knees and elbows” in a wireless sense. It let you keep in contact, but you still needed change for a payphone, or you had to constantly ask, “Hey, do you mind if I use your phone.” When I was in the Air Force in the mid-90’s, pagers were near the end of their life-cycle. Lots of places still had payphones, but those that didn’t usually has signs along the lines of “No you can’t use our phone”. What was really funny was watching someone with a pager borrow someone’s cell phone.

Cell phones have come a long way since the days of the DynaTAC. Even my first cell phone, which was the Nokia 239, is extremely primitive by today’s standards (though it would probably still work – those Nokias were nigh indestructible). And it’s not just about the device itself, the entire system is better than it was. Many of the phone lines today are the same ones we used 30 or 40 years ago, though most telephone companies are upgrading to deal with the demand for high speed internet demand. Cell phones, though, while supporting older technologies, have been on a steady forward progression at a very rapid pace. Look at it this way; land line phones worked on the same equipment for decades, with the only noticeable difference on the customer end being the change from operator managed exchanges to automated switches. Cell phones have progressed to a new generation of technology about every 10 years. And you can bet your bottom dollar it’s being doled out to us – the technology moves much faster than that, but they don’t want to risk alienating customers who just laid down money for a “cutting edge” phone by bringing out new tech right away.

Back to Total Recall. So in the old movie, Quaid (played by the brilliantly vacant Arnold Schwarzenegger) was contacted by an operative using a payphone outside his building. Interestingly, the phones in the original version were all Video Phones (which was a Sci-Fi staple from the 60’s through the 90’s – mainly because it let you see the person who was on the other end, and it seemed a logical progression from the land line phones at the time). In 1990, they couldn’t have know how popular cellular phones would be. They were even rare among Hollywood types back then. It’s worth noting, though, that car phones (which were very popular in the 90’s – because that would never be a bad idea) were very prevalent in the film, and were so powerful that they could contact Mars without any delay in the signal, which is something that isn’t possible unless we learn how to send radio signals faster than the speed of light – at best it would take about 5 minutes for a radio signal to get to Mars from Earth.

The new film had possible the coolest interpretation of future phones that I’ve ever seen. Quaid (this time played by the equally vacant Colin Farrell), was called by his HAND. That’s right, his hand. It lit up, and he held it to his head, not like you would hold a phone, but as if you would rest your head in your hand. And when just talking wasn’t enough there was this interactive glass… well… everywhere, and he put his hand on it, and it activated UI on the glass that included video. Damned impressive. More impressive was that the phone seemed to be implanted in his hand, and they were able to trace his location by it. He removed it (which looked painful) and gave it to someone else, which seems a bit odd, but who am I to judge who people buy and sell in the future?

It paints an interesting picture, though, about how ingrained the cell phone has become in our daily lives. On one hand you can see that even in the 90’s they had some idea how important staying in touch would be. They just thought it would be with car phones. It’s amazing how delightfully inventive our science fiction can be, but at the same time, incredibly short sighted. It makes me wonder if in 20 years time, we’ll be watching the new version of Total Recall and saying, “Can you believe they thought we’d need glass? GLASS?! Really?!”

Road Warriors

Now, I’m not talking about the movie. I’m talking about us. Road Warriors each and every one of us. It’s been estimated that the average American will spend nearly an eighth of our lives in our cars. That’s an average of 8 to 9 years – that’s a lot of time. So that got me to thinking about the automobile and how it came to be so central in our lives. And that led to my disappointment with the current state of the automobile, at least compared to what we were supposed to have according to our Science Fiction.

They have three years come October 21st. Every real geek in the world is counting.

Probably the most recognizable of the future’s cars is the Delorean from Back to the Future. I remember watching it fly at the end of the movie, and all of the flying cars in the second movie and I totally suspended my sense of disbelief (not quite as much as I did for the hoverboard, but that’s neither here nor there). In 1985/89 it seemed completely reasonable that cars would be able to fly by 2015. But unless Detroit is hiding something up it’s sleeve that we don’t know about, it’s just not going to happen. There have a few forays into the “flying car” arena, but none of them is really viable, at least in the sense of them being readily available and usable by the general population. I want a car that can be flown like driving a car, just like I saw Doc Brown do.

In that vein is the flying cars in The Jetsons. I know it’s a cartoon, but damn it, it takes place in the 21st century, and it was in the imagination of the people in the 60’s that we would have flying cars. Flying cars that folded into briefcases. And while that would require instant miniaturization along the lines of what we saw in the original Transformers cartoon (remember how Megatron was huge as a robot, but when he transformed, he fit in Soundwave’s hand?), but I think we’re still entitled.

But the car I REALLY wanted was K.I.T.T from Knight Rider. A car that could drive itself AND talk, and it looked cool as shit to top it off. It’s really the gold standard for Sci-Fi cars, in my opinion. I mean the voice left a little to be desired – I would have given K.I.T.T a female voice I think – but who didn’t want to be Michael Knight? They even made attachments for your car to give it that pacing red “eye” to make your car look like it could talk too. How can you not want a car that has a Turbo Boost? Now they have cars that park themselves and my car’s bluetooth talks to me, and it’s cool, but it’s not the same. More modern Science Fiction remakes, like I, Robot and Minority Report, give us a seemingly plausible look at cars that move at high speed being controlled completely by computers. To the point that human control of the vehicles, while possible, is inadvisable. If Will Smith can’t control one, I know I can’t.

When we look at cars today, it seems to me that they are basically the same as they were 100 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve added a lot of gadgets to our cars – we’ve made improvements on the original designs, but I think Henry Ford could get into a car, drive it, and understand how it works with only minimal instruction. They use the same fuel, and operate on the same basic principals as the model T’s of so long ago. We’ve tried electric cars, but they don’t seem to have enough OOMPH for us (mainly because it take a lot of energy to propel a 2,000 pound vehicle at highway speeds – more energy than most batteries can produce). But I don’t think the means is what we like. I think it’s the motivation.

Listen, I’ve never been one to buy into conspiracy theories, but if there is one I could believe, it would be that the automakers and the oil producers are in bed together. The automakers have no reason not to explore developing REAL innovations in automobiles, like power by Hydrogen fuel. And yes, I know there are Hydrogen and Propane cars on the road, but they are far too few. And yes, I know Propane is still technically a fossil fuel, but it’s a byproduct of Natural Gas and Petroleum refinement and as a result, much cheaper. It’s also a much cleaner fuel than diesel and gasoline, but burns just as well, if not better. It is more volatile than the others, sure, but safety is the easy part. Granted it isn’t the perfect solution, because it still produces greenhouse gases, but it does it in far lower amounts, which would buy us time to perfect hydrogen fuel and fusion.

Why won’t we do it? Back on the conspiracy bit; I think we don’t have it because there’s not enough money in it. I normally don’t was political here, but there’s a lot at work here. There’s a ton of money to be made in oil, and very little in renewable and alternative fuels. That’s why these technologies are so expensive; they have to recoup the loss of futures. Let’s assume that automobile manufacturers are invested heavily in oil companies and visa-verse. It’s in the best interests of both to keep cars inefficient and dependent on oil. Yes, hybrid cars exist, but they are expensive, and they only became more affordable when gasoline prices rose past $3.00 a gallon. The American automobile industry was given an infusion by the government, and seems to be healthy enough now. Why were they unhealthy? Bad investments in part. But mainly, they were making expensive cars with poor gas mileage at a time when fuel prices were skyrocketing. Foreign cars were already getting better mileage and were better managed, so they suffered less. But they aren’t racing to make better cars either. Then again, it’s not like we stopped buying them.

So who wants to buy me a flying Delorean with a flashing red “eye”?

Tragedy in Aurora

This is dedicated to the people of Aurora, Colorado.

For those that don’t know me, I’m a night owl and a Redditor, so the news about Aurora got to me very quickly. I had almost attended a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises myself, but I ended up going this past Saturday. I happened to be browsing Reddit when the news broke and I was beside myself (which is saying something because I’m a pretty big guy). I’ve been around, but I still find a hard time wrapping my brain around an event like this. This is one of those incomprehensible acts that defies any attempts to rationalize or understand. As I watched the drama unfold (in a way previously unseen) I started thinking about how we react to this type of violence today, as opposed to how we have in the past.

A Fitting Tribute

I’m not going to go over the details, because I believe the devil is in the details and there’s a lot we still don’t know, most important being the “why”. This sort of thing has happened before, though not quite to this magnitude, but this time, something feels different this time. That’s not to say that if this had been a midnight screening of the latest Sex and the City, that we wouldn’t be talking about it the same way, but the way the geek community immediately responded on this makes it feel different to me – more connected, more concerned and more involved. I just think back to the somewhat recent shootings in Oakland and Seal Beach and I can’t find nearly the same amount of coverage on them. Is it the fact that it happened at a highly anticipated event? Is it the fact that geeks (who truly rule modern media) were closely watching the event? Or was it really more chilling and awful? It’s difficult to say. But just to give some perspective, here’s a link to a list of the Mass Shootings in the US since 1991 as provided by the L.A. Times (Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings). I wonder how many you remember.

As I was saying, as I watched this unfold, I noticed something that really bothered me: political and ideological grandstanding. As with most shootings, the more liberal among us (read: Democrats if you’re in the US) immediately call to ban guns, or at least make them harder to get. Then the conservatives (read: Republicans in the US) go to the other extreme and say that if there were less controls and more people were armed, the effect would have been lessened, or the threat removed altogether. Of course the entire argument is ludicrous because it only happens when something like this occurs. We don’t have any meaningful dialogue about gun control because our nation is so polarized right now that we can’t heave meaningful dialogue about ANYTHING. But let’s face facts: Legally or illegally, if this man wanted to hurt people as badly as it seems clear that he did, getting the guns wouldn’t have been a problem. And even if he couldn’t get guns, he seems more than capable of using other means to kill lots of people. I mean hell, his apartment was not only rigged to blow up anyone who came in (and his stereo was set to play loudly at midnight, ensuring someone would try) but also burn down the whole building. If he’d have gone into that theater with pipe bombs, it would have been a lot worse.

The other thing that seems to be happening falls into ideological grandstanding. I’ve seen tweets and posts along these lines: “12 people died in Aurora, but 6000 children die every day because they don’t have clean water” or “hundreds of people die everyday because of poverty, where is the outrage there?!” Perhaps my own experience has jaded me, but I don’t see how those types of comparisons don’t trivialize the event. Yes it’s sad that 6,000 children a day because they lack clean water, but in my mind, that’s a predictable event and not tragic; at least not on the same level. To me it reduces the importance of an event like this one to compare it to other kinds of sadness. People aren’t suddenly going to go, “I lost my best friend to a maniac, but shit, that’s nothing compared to the suffering of the children in Syria.” It’s apples and oranges, pure and simple, and shame on people who trivialize the pain of the families involved by trying to guilt us (and them) into caring MORE about something else completely unrelated.

I don’t like that this happened, and I like less that we will blame everyone in the world except the man who pulled the trigger. We’ll blame the guns because they fired the bullets. We’ll blame the government for not banning the guns. We’ll blame the gun makers for… well… making the guns. We’ll blame the theater for not having metal detectors or more police. We’ll blame the shooters parents for raising a loon. We’ll blame everyone but him; the one man who planned and devised and schemed to kill as many people as he could for a yet unknown reason. I don’t get that. We turn victims into criminals and criminals into victims. The guy that shot all the people in Seal Beach pleaded not guilty. People SAW him do it. I’m sure his lawyers will paint him as a victim of some sudden mental illness. The guy that shot all those people at Ft. Hood; they didn’t blame him, they blamed his religion. Religion is just philosophy with some divinity added for flavor. It can’t make choices for you. We’ve become a culture where people don’t have to be responsible for themselves, they can blame their environment, or their parentage, or their movie choices.

Ah, that opens another can of worms doesn’t it. There are going to be people who blame this on the violence in movies, and to an extent, at least I can understand that. There have been crusades against comic book and cartoon violence since I was a small child, mainly for fear that it could adversely affect the impressionable mind of the children that were watching and reading. The target audiences for Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons were adults, but they played the old cartoons from the 40’s alongside newer ones from the 60’s, and even though I didn’t understand a lot of the references, I still laughed when Daffy had his face blown off. And there were stories of the children who killed other children trying to act those things out. But seriously, where was the supervision? How were they allowed to do those things without someone noticing?

As for comic books, the Comics Code doesn’t monitor acts of violence in and of themselves, it only prevents the actual show of the violence (so you could have a criminal commit a mass shooting and the aftermath, and you can show him shooting, but you can’t show victims being shot). And since the Aurora shooter identified himself as “The Joker” I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame comic books and the movies they inspire too. But really, Science Fiction hasn’t failed us here. There’s plenty of this kind of depravity in Science Fiction. Heath Ledger’s “Joker” rendition, the final portrayal of his career, was so spot-on, and the movie so senselessly violent, that people immediately assumed that it was connected to his untimely death. Movies like The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli portray acts of violence like this one as ultimately evil and they people who commit them always meet a justifiably horrific end.

If only that happened in real life.

To all those who lost their lives because they went to the movies – Requiescat in Pace.