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.

The Hidden Hatred

It makes me sad that I have to pull my soapbox out for this, but I’ve just seen too many stupid comments flying around about a myriad of issues that all involve the same thing:

HATRED

There are lots of different kinds of hatred, but I think we can all agree that now, more than ever, two forms seem to be dominating out collective consciousness – misanthropy and racism.

We’ll talk about Racism first.

By now, if you don’t know about Donald Sterling, you live under a rock, or you’re renting out the Unabomber’s cabin for the Spring. The (hopefully soon-to-be ex-) owner of the LA Clippers Basketball team said some less-than-appropriate things during a phone call to his alleged mistress,  V. Stiviano. During the call, Sterling urged his frequent court-side companion not to bring black people to the games, and to stop associating with them altogether. This was after he mentioned previously asking her to remove all the pictures of black people from her Instagram account. I won’t recap the entire discussion, but suffice it to say that it can concluded that Donald Sterling feels an inherent superiority to African-Americans. Although, it might be argued that he feels superior to everyone, this particular conversation seemed heavily slanted against blacks.

Donald Sterling Racism Clippers

I was going to post a picture of Donald Sterling, but no one with that much Grecian Formula on their head needs to be seen in public.

Soon after, it was revealed that this wasn’t the first time Sterling had been called a racist. Somehow, it was overlooked that in 2009, Elgin Baylor filed suit against Sterling for age and race discrimination. In that suit, he alleged that when asked about courting black coaches for the team, Sterling replied that he, “would like to have a White southern coach coaching poor Black players.” However, since he had no documentation, the suit was overturned. 

Earlier than that, even, in 2003, the Housing Right Center (and 19 tenants – all black), filed suit in Federal court against Sterling and his property management company. They alleged that Sterling actively blocked renting to “non-Koreans” (because he felt that they, more than any other group, wouldn’t have the courage to complain about a lack of services). When he purchased the Ardmore building, his then property manager, Summer Davenport, testified that when he entered the building, he noted the smell, and noted that it smelled that way because “blacks aren’t clean” and “Mexican’s sit around and drink and smoke all day”. According to Davenport:

Cultivating his image meant no Blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children (whom Sterling called “brats”) and no government-housing-subsidy recipients as tenants.

So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.

Yet somehow, none of us noticed. Why? Because no one “important” was involved. But this time it was different. He called out a specific person, a person of some influence: Magic Johnson. He basically told his mistress not to associate with Magic Johnson anymore in any sort of public way. Because people might talk.

After the release of the recorded call, there was an almost immediate backlash. But I was surprised to find people defending Sterling and his “right to privacy”. We have an interesting concept of privacy these days. “Private” come from the Latin word privus, which means “single, individual” – that means something is only truly private if you keep it only to yourself. If you share it with someone else, it’s no longer private. But that’s not really the point. The real issue is what he said in a conversation he felt would not be made public. That’s when public figures reveal their real selves – when they don’t think anyone else can see them.

What surprised me the most were the people defending his actions (as opposed to his privacy). I got into a rather heated facebook conversation where one of the participants felt like since the African-American members of the Clippers probably used racial epithets against Sterling at some point in the past, it was all good. He added that we should all just get over racism because racism exists on both side. I find this rationale completely flabbergasting. Yes, let’s ignore the problem because it’s worse than we thought. Worse, there’s a tinge of “well it’s OK because they do it too”.

That’s the basic ideal that’s fueling the conflict in the Middle East. “They killed my baby, so I’m going to kill ALL their babies… in the name of <insert deity of choice here>.” Yeah.

Donald Sterling is a racist. Period. And he’s the worst kind of racist – one who pretends not to be or doesn’t believe they are. Just because he doesn’t use the language with which we’re most familiar, doesn’t make it less the truth. I don’t care how many tickets he gives away so he can sleep at night. This sort of behavior is unacceptable, and I believe the Commissioner of the NBA did the right thing by banning him for life.

Now onto Misanthropy.

You’ll note I said “misanthropy” and not “misogyny”. That’s because I’m seeing this door swing both ways, and frankly it’s disturbing. Granted, misogyny is far more prevalent today then it’s male-based counterpart, misandry, but they are both equally distasteful. That said, I’m not really going to go into misandry – I’m only mentioning it because lately it seems like the natural reaction to “woman bashing” is “man bashing”.

On to the issue, though. Recently, someone I follow on Twitter, Janelle Asselin (@gimpnelly), found herself subjected to the worse kind of misogyny all because she dared to question the practices if the current editorial team at DC, and the choices they made for a recent re-release of  Teen Titans. Her critique focused on, in part, the cover artwork – in which one of the members (specifically Wonder Girl) was drawn with a decidedly adult physique – a critique, I might add, with which I am in total agreement. Aside from the normal “he-man woman hater” rhetoric that’s part and parcel in the Comic Book world, Janelle was threatened with violence and rape.

Teen Titans Cover Controversy

This is the Cover in question – See there? That’s Wonder Girl, front and center. And she doesn’t look like a teenager to me.

And while that was certainly bad enough, the immediate reaction of her peer group (which being in comics means that it’s mostly men) was “well that happens” and “we get threatened too”. There wasn’t an outpouring of support, only more of the same. All because she said “that teenaged girl’s boobs look fake”… in a comic book. I mean I’m floored. I don’t know how to respond to this type of behavior. I mean I’ve written about the trials and tribulations of female Cosplayers in the past (The Baying of the Dickwolf), and about how the anonymity of the Internet makes us stupid (back when I wrote for Geek Shui Living). But this is just a whole new level of What The Actual Fuck.

What makes someone think it’s OK to threaten someone with rape? Because they don’t know your real name? Because you think they can’t find you? Because you think it’s funny? I think it’s because you’re an asshole. This is a long standing issue in the gaming/comic world, both among fans and among the industry professionals. They pander to males adolescents because that’s who they think their main target it. I wonder if it’s occurred to them that more young men buy games and comics because they are being targeted at them? We see that girls can be avid fans and consumers when they are targeted: My Little Pony and Disney seemed to have realized this, though they still enforce gender roles.

It stands to reason that if the art in comics were a little more realistic, and less fodder for young men’s… *ahem*… dreams, more girls would buy comics. The same for video games. I mean have you seen the armor in most MMORPG’s? It’s almost comical how little armor they put on the female figures compared to the male. It’s clear that they are objectifying the female form – it would be difficult to deny.

With comic books, though, there is the additional argument that they are presenting, in many cases, what amounts to persons of perfect form. They are heroes, after all, and usually have some sort of supernatural or extraordinary abilities. I mean, it makes sense that Wonder Woman has the body she does, she’s divine. But does she need to ruin around in a bathing suit? I mean Superman is also a perfect specimen, as are Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern, but they are almost completely covered (aside from Superman’s odd placement of his underwear). Wonder Woman is wearing a strapless one piece bathing suit. Black Canary is wearing fishnet stocking – because that’s practical gear for a superhero. I can’t come up with a single reason for Power Girl’s “cleavage window” – aside from it being a cleavage window.

So it stands that Ms. Asslin has a valid point. And she was attacked with threats of rape and bodily harm. Not to mention the questioning of her ability to even judge the matter in the first place. The nicest of the insults involved questioning her abilities because she only knew about Batman, or more bluntly, because “girls don’t know anything about comics”. At the end of the day, I think the issues are connected. There is rampant sexism in gaming and comics, and the industry has been turning a blind eye to it for too long. Ms. Asslin has involved the police in her issue (as she should have – bravo to her) and one can only hope that the tremendous asshats that threatened her will soon learn that nothing is “private” anymore.

I have to say that I’m completely flummoxed that either of these situations have people rationalizing the behavior to make it more acceptable. “Sterling’s from a different time”, or “they’re just kids who think it’s funny” just aren’t acceptable. We’ve turned into a society that doesn’t believe that people need to be responsible for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. When I was speaking to someone who I considered to be feminist about the “Cosplay is Consent” issue, her response was, “they wouldn’t dress like that if they didn’t want attention,” which to me is the same as saying, “they’re asking for it.” It’s the same with this issues. There’s no justification for racism or misanthropy. It’s just stupid, counter-productive, and god damn it, we’ll never develop Warp Drive and meet the Vulcans if we keep doing stupid shit like this. Stop it already.

And if you aren’t sure if what you’re saying or doing is acceptable, then remember Wheaton’s Law:

Wheaton's Law Don't Be a Dick

No seriously. Stop it already.

/endrant

The Price of Freedom…

Boston Marathon Bombing - Terrorism

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.”
- Benjamin Franklin, c. 1759

I know I don’t normally start with quotes, but considering the events of the day, it seemed appropriate. I also tend to stay a little behind the times on current events stories because many times, the “mainstream” media will begin saying things as fact that aren’t necessarily confirmed. Truth, and its pursuit, is very important to me. The way I see it, I’d rather be late and credible than early and wrong. But I couldn’t let this event pass without writing something, because its events like these that define us for generations to come.

Boston Marathon Bombing - Terrorism

This is what we should focus on – That horrible events make us shine. We rise to the occasion and show what the best of us can really do.

It was late in the afternoon when a co-worker asked me if I had heard about what happened in Boston. It was a really busy day today (I didn’t have time to pick my own nose, let alone read the news), so I hadn’t. He related to me that someone had set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, and that a bunch of people had been hurt. So, I stopped what I was doing and immediately went to Yahoo to look it up. There, on the front page, was the story, and a picture of the aftermath. Instantly, on Twitter and Facebook, people started with the normal rhetoric you would expect – the immediate assumption that this is terrorism, and the arguments that banning bombs didn’t prevent this tragedy, so why should we ban guns.

So, rather than talk about the event itself, since we know so little, I want to talk about… well.. the talking. Some of it disturbs me, and some of it makes me sad. Right now, there are over 130 people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the events today. They should be our primary concern. Flag-waving and chest-beating will not accomplish that. I think the most important thing we can do, though, is to go about our daily lives as if nothing happened. Please don’t misunderstand – I don’t mean to imply that this isn’t important. On the contrary, it’s very much so. What I’m saying that we shouldn’t let events like this determine how we live our lives.

When I was a kid, IRA bombings in the UK were frequent. Of course, living in the States, I really had no idea what it meant to live in that kind of state of mind. Never knowing if the guy sitting next to you with the brogue accent was a terrorist or not. Or if the baby carriage being pushed toward you actually had a bomb in it. We never had to live with that level of uneasiness. Even in the big cities (I grew up in Middletown, Ohio, a city of about 50,000 – so this did NOT apply to me), you were more concerned with being mugged or raped than being the victim of a terror attack. In fact, until the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, it had never occurred to me that anything like what happened in the UK would happen here.

As a culture, we are heavily invested in our own invincibility. To the point that even though we lost the Vietnam War, we refuse to accept it as a loss because it was “only a police action”. When I was in basic training, I was taught that we salute palm inward because showing your palm was a sign of surrender and we had never surrendered to anyone. That sort of attitude permeates out culture to the deepest levels.

But 9/11 changed all of that. For the first time, we felt vulnerable and exposed. We suddenly didn’t feel so invincible. Maybe it was the circumstances, or maybe it was the fact that we were faced with fighting in ideal rather than a country, but we were completely out of our element. We allowed ourselves to be consumed by our fear. And it’s only getting worse with every new event. Just a few weeks back, I was assaulted by the idea that I should be watching my neighbors and reporting “suspicious” activity. They didn’t define “suspicious” – I guess that’s left up to the Department of Homeland Security. Even our science fiction, which really reflects our visions of the future, has darkened, particularly when compared to that of the past. The favorite enemy in film changed from being Soviet/Communist to being obviously Arab or Islamist. I remember watching True Lies when I was in the Air Force and commenting to a friend that it was the first film we’d seen with Arab-based antagonists (compared to The Hunt For Red October from a short 4 years earlier where the Soviets were still the enemy). Even my survival training was based around Middle Eastern combatants (previously they had been based on Southeast Asian – read: Vietnamese – tactics). Granted, terrorism wasn’t the root cause of this, the First Gulf War was. But even then, we imagined our selves fighting the Iraqis, not because of religious or idealogical differences, but because they did something you should never ever do – they bit the hand that fed them.

And after all that, we were still invincible.

After 9/11, we slowly started giving up our freedoms. We decided that it was better to be safe than to be free. We wondered how we ever were so lax in our security. We started becoming suspicious of anyone “brown”. Iraqis, Iranians, Libyans, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis – they were all lumped together in a giant bin we called “Muslim Extremists” even though they are all really very different people. And while I would agree that Sharia isn’t the ideal system of government in terms of equality and freedom, it is the government the people selected, and we should respect that. But we don’t. We want everyone to be like us, because this is the greatest country in the world, and how wonderful the world would be if we were all like us.

And so we started checking ourselves before we stepped onto aircraft. Not because we probably should have been doing it all along – but because we are scared. And it’s crippled the companies that provided us with air travel because they have to foot a great deal of the expense of the checks. And people avoid air travel because it’s more of a hassle than a convenience now.

And then we started thinking about our borders, trying to keep out the “undesirables”. All of the men who attacked us were here legally, though, so we made it harder for foreigners to come here legally, meaning more come illegally… because we didn’t think that far ahead. We aren’t very good at planning for consequences.

And then we started rattling our saber at anyone who we thought might be intimidated by it instead of trying to identify what made us a target in the first place. I won’t go into why I think we were targeted, but suffice it to say that it’s not because they are jealous of our freedoms. They WERE or ARE free people. As an example, Iran was just as free as we were up until we had their President deposed in the 50’s. Then they spiraled into decades of oppression by a US/UK sponsored tyrant who was deposed by religious zealot. We’ve made our bed, ladies and gentlemen, and now the whole world has to lie in it with us.

So what does any of this have to do with Boston, seeing as how we don’t yet know what happened? Well, it’s like this. As I watched the events unfold, I started seeing this identified as an “Act of Terror”. Friends, by definition, and “Act of Terror”, which is what terrorism is about, is defined as an act of which the sole purpose is to inspire fear. And while that MAY be the case here, we don’t know that yet. I find it more likely that the blast was intended just to kill and hurt people. Which makes his good old fashioned mass murder (or at least an attempt at mass murder – as of this writing, thankfully, only 3 people have died while well over a hundred more are severely injured). Before we sensationalize, let’s find the facts. There’s no reason to qualify this as ANYTHING other than to drive rating and feed our over-developed need for violence and impended sense of doom.

This is how I see it: Today, we witnessed the depths of human depravity, and we don’t need to understand it. We likely never really will. It’s not necessary to. We just need to know it was awful. What’s far more important is that despite the horrible things happening – the death and misery, the looting and hysterics – there were people who ran toward the danger rather than from it. There were people who were there immediately to help the wounded and the frightened. It took the worst in us to find the best in us. And that’s the real take-away here. Because honestly, we don’t need to glorify whomever did this by plastering their face all over the international media. That’s exactly what they want. We need to recognize the heroes of the day – like the man who was running alongside a wheelchair, holding pieces of a man’s legs while he was being taken to an ambulance.

See, if this WAS an act of terror, and that’s a big IF at this point, the last thing we should do is change how we live our lives. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be vigilant – we should – but we have people whose sole purpose is life is to be vigilant FOR us. I shouldn’t have to watch my neighbors and keep my eyes open for suspicious activity. Because that’s exactly what terrorism is about – making me afraid. They want us to think an attack is awaiting every minute of every day. They want us to be afraid. And I refuse. I refuse to live in fear. I look at that quote from Ben Franklin from 250 years ago and it’s much more common paraphrasing, “Anyone who’s willing to give up freedom for security deserves neither and will lose both” and I think to myself… what price, this freedom of ours?  I don’t want to teach my daughter that we gave up our rights and freedoms just so we would feel safer. I refuse to teach her to be afraid.

I would much rather teach her to be invincible.

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.

Into That Good Night

Do you really remember?

Lately, we’ve all been waxing a bit political, which is understandable considering the upcoming Presidential elections this November. But today, more than any other day, we should set aside those thoughts and ramblings. This day is more important than that.

I was preparing for an interview the morning of September 11th, 2001. Back then, I was selling mortgages, and I had been working for a brokerage that was bought by a funding company, making it nigh impossible to sell. I had set an interview with a small local bank for a Loan Officer’s position, a position I held for two years. I was putting on my tie when the phone rang. It was my mother. I assumed she was calling to wish me luck, but her voice was more frantic than that. “Are you watching the news?” I told her was getting running late and I wasn’t watching TV. “Something’s happening in New York. I think a plane ran into the World Trade Center.” My curiosity got the better of me and I turned on the set. What is it about the possibility of watching misfortune and disaster that draws us in like moths to a flame?

Do you really remember?

What was I watching? What was going on? Was it an accident? I was talking through the scenarios with my mother when, to our mutual horror, we watched the second plane careen into the south tower. Surely that wasn’t an accident. Why would anyone ram a plane into an office building? Why was this happening? I got off the phone because I had to go to my interview. I called the bank, and Danny, the Vice President of the bank, answered. He said everyone had left and the bank was closing, but since I was on the way, he’d wait for me. We had my interview, but we mostly talked about the event and our pasts. I don’t think we even really discussed the job much.

Every so often, our lives are marked by some terrific event; that day where we ask one another “Where were you when…” For our grandparents and great-grandparents, it was Pearl Harbor. And then for our parents it was the Kennedy Assassination. For me it was the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger. But 9/11 ran deeper. It scarred all of us. It wasn’t just an event, it was an attack. It was a statement against everything that we hold dear.

We have a special abhorrence for the death of innocent people – innocent at least in terms of conflict. We’ve been lucky in the US. Our government, while raucous, is very stable by comparison. We don’t generally have to deal with terrorism on our own soil. We’ve been a dominant military power since the start of the 20th century. We’ve powered the world economy with our own. And with the death of Osama Bin Laden and the subsequent faltering of Al-Qaeda, we feel like we won.

But we didn’t win. And we didn’t remember. Sure, we all remember what happened and who caused it. But we forgot what it was like before that happened. We changed everything about our lives. We police ourselves. We’ve become paranoid. We are so afraid of another attack on our soil that we scream and rant about closing the borders and check old ladies and children for illicit materials when they board planes. Ladies and Gentlemen, they got exactly what they wanted – Our fear.

So if we want to honor those people who had their lives taken unfairly, we should do so with lifted heads, rigid backs and firm resolve. We will not, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, go gently into that good night. We will find our liberty and wave it about on flag staffs made from the will of our forefathers and sing songs about the glory of our country until the sun burns out.

Rage with me, friends. Rage against the dying of the light.

Define “Geek”…

Just a few kinds of geek. What kind are you?

As many of you know, I spent the weekend, neck deep in the revelry that is Gen Con. I don’t have a great deal of time for gaming, and honestly, I don’t have anyone to game with, so I went mostly to spend time with my oldest friend, John (@Cmaaarrr). I had been to Gen Con in the past (also with the intention of meeting people from Twitter), but it was only for a single day, and the last day to boot, and I’ve also been to Dragon*Con, but I honestly wasn’t totally prepared for the event. In the end much fun was had by all, and I even made some new friends and have a few stories to share.

But that’s not the point here…

Lately, as I’m sure you’re all aware, there has been a rather large discussion about what it means to be a “geek”, and who should be allowed to call themselves such. The entire concept strikes me as ludicrous to the extreme, and I haven’t said a whole lot on the topic, even in conversation. I did write about the seemingly rampant misogyny that seems to be infecting the “geek” community of late, but that’s its own issue. So then I saw this tweet:

A thought provoking tweet

There’s nothing wrong with this tweet. Nothing at all. But it brought to mind a particular conversation in the community after Comic-Con about who is and isn’t a geek. I’m not going to go into the particulars, because most of you are probably already familiar with the subject, and I don’t want people to confuse my position on this. It’s just that this tweet got my gears turning.

A long time ago, when I first started writing for Geek Shui, I also wrote a small piece for G33kMade on the topic of what I thought it meant to be a geek. It was a short few paragraphs on what I thought it meant to be a geek. I don’t have the original text anymore, so I will do my best to hit the high points.

To me, a geek is someone who is passionate about a “thing” and that “thing” can be ANY “thing”; be it cars, motorcycles, computers, comic books, gaming, whatever. Although, I think I’ll let YOU call the Bikers “motorcycle geeks”. Labels aside, though, it’s a simple truth. And there will always be those people who really geek out, and those that just enjoy whatever it is they geek about about to be called a geek by people who don’t. We all know the various levels and everyone is a geek to some extent; they just may not call it being a geek.

Just a few kinds of geek. What kind are you?

I knew this kid in high school, Mike DeBiasi, who was probably some flavor of autistic. He was “slow” in school, but you could ask him anything about Star Trek: TOS and he could answer it. Seriously, if you gave him a number between 1 and 79, hew could name the episode, when it aired, who directed it, who the guest stars were and what the basic plot was. I’m a BIG Trekkie and I can’t do that. He quoted obscure lines to test me, and often he stumped me, and he loved every second of it. And he didn’t care that people thought he was a dork or whatever. He liked what he liked and to hell what anyone else thought.

We all should be so strong.

So when I saw the diatribe about the “booth babes” at Comic-Con and the question as to the “geek cred” of Felicia Day, it didn’t really sync with me. I don’t see the world that way, and I would never look at a person, or their work, and decide whether it was “geeky” enough. Being a “geek” isn’t defined by set parameters, nor should it be. It’s simply label; one we all apply differently. There is never a reason for anyone to try to force someone else to label the way they do. We get enough of that with media and politics and bad television.

I milled around the Indiana Convention Center for 3 and a half days, and I saw every kind of geek imaginable. I saw people who geeked over Magic the Gathering (which reminded me that I should really sell my cards). I saw people who geeked over hand-stitched leather bags (made by Mad Girl Clothing and sold by Pendragon) – I’ll admit I was one of them. I saw people in costume (my personal favorites were the Steampunk Ghostbusters) and people carrying large bags of games. It was a total geek fest. And two blocks over and up, I saw hundreds of testosterone junkies geeking out over motorcycles (though, again, I would never say that to their faces – but it’s true). And there were even people geeking out over swimming. And there were beautiful girls, and men with questionable hygiene habits; groups wandering the exhibition hall endlessly, and people who holed up in a room and role played all weekend. And the Lord saw that it was good. And there was evening and morning, and evening and morning, and evening and morning. Thus was the Con.

I never thought I’d see the say that a geek would tell someone that they weren’t good enough or geeky enough. I remember wishing I could just have a conversation with someone that understood what I was talking about. Hell, I still wish for it. I think we all need to get over ourselves a little bit. I mean isn’t there a certain amount of irony in all of this? I suppose you could call it poetic justice when a dorky guy tells a pretty girl she’s not geek enough, but at the end of the day, we all know that 20 years ago, the same people bashing the beautiful woman would have done anything to carry her books to class.

Damn right, I would have.