Thursday, April 30, 2015

Trek Thursday: Errand of Mercy

#26: Errand of Mercy

In case you forgot: The Enterprise's mission is to obtain permission from the residents of the planet of Organia to build a Starfleet base there, as it is a key strategic point for both the Federation and the Klingons. The Organians refuse and Kirk can't deal with it; the Klingons come and take over and Kirk can't deal with it; finally, the Organians (who are of the ~beings of pure energy~ variety, surprise!) stop all the fighting and tell the Klingons and the Enterprise both to basically "go, and sin no more."

Mostly I just really like the Organians. They are perfectly, incredibly mellow, even when dealing with Kirk and his temper tantrums. Often TOS encounters alien races who claim to despise violence and destruction, despite begetting more violence and destruction themselves (see last week's Metrons). The Organians, on the other hand, are consistently and totally pacifist. They stay out of the conflict until they absolutely have to, and they do it in a fairly minimal, noninvasive way, without killing anyone or destroying anything.

If the Aliens of the Week are cool, though, our Power Trio is carrying the idiot ball. Not once do Kirk and Spock stop to think that the Organians may have a reason for being so confident in their own safety. Understandable in Kirk's case—he seems pretty eager to phaser some Klingons, much as he may insist otherwise—but come on, Spock! If the Organians are ~beings of pure energy~, wouldn't he notice that they weren't really growing or consuming any food or resources in his little scientific survey? He managed to pick up on the fact that they were "totally stagnant," after all.

If the Organian's power is as immense as is implied, why haven't they stopped violent conflicts before? Why don't they just tell Kirk and Kor right off the bat, "We're beings of pure energy, it's impossible for you to hurt us and we won't let you hurt each other, GTFO."?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Science Saturday: The Intersection of Anthropology and Science

The great thing about having a Facebook page (for Kokoba, I mean; in addition to the private personal account I have) is that it's a great way to store links and stories I find interesting but don't have the time to immediately blog about.

One such story is this article from NPR about constructing a giant telescope in Hawaii. The peak of Mauna Kea is considered sacred ground to a number of people; astronomers also say that it's the best possible location for this new telescope. A clash ensues.

The Twin Keck Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. 

If you look at this as an isolated incident, it's easy to brush away Hawaiian concerns as silly superstition. However, if you posit this conflict as part of America's longer history in Hawaii, the waters get muddied. Land grabbing, arguably including land used to build the other telescopes in the islands, has been a pervasive issue in this history; I don't think it's too much of a stretch to make a connection between repeated land grabs and the resistance this telescope is facing. As this piece in Nature points out,

The Mauna Kea debate reflects larger issues of Hawaiian history, including past abuses such as using one of the islands as a practice bombing range, says Robert McLaren, associate director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “There’s more to this than just a telescope on Mauna Kea,” he says.
Maxwell emphasizes that many of the protestors are not anti-science. “It’s just that enough is enough,” he says. “The land is an extension of you, so any destruction is hard inside.”

The telescope would be the largest so far on the Mauna Kea site, commonly referred to as the TMT—Thirty Meter Telescope. It's a joint project between two California universities as well as the governments of Canada, China, India, and Japan.Because of its location and isolation, Hawaii is a great place to build telescopes and observatories. There are already more than a dozen observatories on Mauna Kea for that very reason (including the ones pictured above). Some of them—maybe even most or all of them?—have faced similar objections. Can one of them be updated instead of building a new one? One of the pre-existing Mauna Kea observatories is actually slated for deconstruction and the land will be left untouched, allowed to be reclaimed by nature.

There is a lot more on this topic that deserves to be written, and I didn't have the time to write as much as I would, but I wanted to at least float the topic. It's a problem that speaks to two things I hold near to my heart: social justice/decolonization and the stars. This is more than just a simple religion versus science issue. This is a conflict that has its roots in political decisions going back two hundred years and beyond. How do you heal that rift? How can both sides win? Any thoughts, readers?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Arena

#27: The Arena

In case you forgot: Tonight, on galactic home box office, it's captain James T. Kirk versus the captain of the Gorn ship!

This one is solid "classic" territory; it's probably the episode people think of when they think of TOS (that or "The Trouble With Tribbles"). But there's a lot more to the episode than Kirk fighting the Lizard King. There's a whole setup that's really grim and analogous to so many military conflicts: who attacked the peaceful Federation outpost? Why? What should we do when we find them? Tracking and pursuing the Gorn ship takes up quite a lot of the episode, and I mean that in a complimentary fashion, because it is expertly paced. It's kind of a shame, though not at all surprising, that this episode's claim to fame is Kirk wrestling a dude in a rubber suit.

Still, there's some bullshit. The Metrons say that they are above violence and destruction, but they're totally cool with destroying a ship full of (lizard)people? They don't even try to arrange for diplomacy between the Federation and the Gorn, they just straight off go for the gladitorial one-on-one method of problem solving. Even that wouldn't necessarily be hypocritical, if that meant saving the lives of everyone else aboard the respective ships, but the Metrons are totally cool with blowing the loser's ship into space dust. So much for saving lives. You can argue that it's "just a test," I suppose, but it really doesn't come off that way. Kirk sparing the Gorn captain doesn't seem like a possibility the Metrons were expecting or, more importantly, hoping for.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Trek Thursday: Metamorphosis

#28: Metamorphosis

In case you forgot: Gregor Samsa awoke...oh, wait, sorry. The Power Trio have picked up Nancy Hedford, an important Federation Commissioner who has contracted a deadly case of space AIDS that, for whatever reason, she wasn't inoculated against. They're trying to take her back to the Enterprise for treatment when the Galileo gets hijacked by an asteroid. Turns out some electrical being wants them to be playmates for Zefram Cochrane, and may also be in love with him. The being takes over the dying Commissioner's body and neo-Nancy and Zefram live happily ever after.

This is one of Trek's better science fiction premises: a totally inhuman lifeform falling in love with a human and doing anything to make him happy. But the awkward gender stuff in this episode is a bit cringe-worthy, even for TOS.The worst for me is: how the hell does this electric thing take over Hedford's body? Is Hedford still alive in there, trapped, unable to complete her mission or to advance the career she had chosen for herself?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Music Monday: Wanda Jackson

I grew up listening to the "oldies" station—"greatest hits of the 50s, 60s, and 70s"—and so, given my age, am probably more familiar with the names, songs, and faces of the middle of the century than I am with what's contemporary.

Yet somehow Wanda Jackson completely escaped my notice until she showed up on a Pandora station I created right after college. How had I never heard her before? Who knows. But maybe you haven't heard her either, which is a shame because she was a pioneer in early rock, helping to fuse blues and country into what would become rock 'n' roll.

"Hard-Headed Woman"

"Fujiyama Mama"

And she is still touring and recording today. Here's a tune you might recognize from the end credits of Bridesmaids.

"Shakin' All Over"

And a fun cover of a classic:

"Rum and Coca Cola"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Sunday: 5 Magical Items I Would Love to Own

This week's 5 Fandom Friday is something I think we've all thought about. Life gets hard, and a few magical items here and there would certainly make things easier!

1. A blessed bag of holding (NetHack)

The bag of holding (or a similar idea) appears in lots of RPGS; I chose the NetHack variant, as it comes with fewer restrictions. Imagine: one bag and you put all the crap in it you want! I mean, of course it gets heavier—though I specified a blessed bag of holding because it doesn't weigh as much as a regular bag of holding—but think how easier life would still be. No more checked baggage on long trips, moving is no longer a hassle, no more worries about closet space...

A bag of holding was my first thought, and to be honest it would be so useful and awesome that I had a hard time coming up with four more...

2. Link's ocarina (Ocarina of Time)

I have to travel a lot—or rather, I'd like to—and so long as I got to decide where the "fast travel" options are, the Ocarina of Time would be so handy. Plus, you can travel through time with it! With this and a bag of holding, you basically have a much more reliable TARDIS.

3. Magic pants (The Boy With Gold Pants)

I ran this question by JV. Funnily enough, his first choice was also a bag of holding: nerds of a feather flock together, I guess! But his second answer, "Golden pants," was an answer I didn't understand at all.

"You know, like from the story. The boy finds pants and the pockets are always filled with gold?"

"Um, this must be a Swedish story..."

And it is: a children's book from 1967, to be exact. Young Mats Nilsson finds a pair of pants and the pockets never run out of money (bank notes, not gold, so JV had remembered a little bit incorrectly). I don't know the novel has ever been translated to English. I guess it's like a magical realism version of Blank Check or Richie Rich?

4. A magical anti-aging portrait (The Portrait of Dorian Gray)

So the moral of the story is that Dorian Gray is an asshole, I know, and that's why it ends so unhappily, but if I could get a magical portrait without selling my soul, I would be so down with that.

5. An "eating your words" feast (The Phantom Tollbooth)

So this one isn't an item, really. It's a magic inherent in the world of the Phantom Tollbooth. But if this magic could be distilled into an item, like a table or a plate or whatever, that would be the best thing ever. Imagine: never cooking again! All you have to do is name whatever it is you want to eat and it appears right in front of you, just as you described it!

What magical items would you want?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trek Thursday: I, Mudd

#29: I, Mudd

In case you forgot: The only recurring antagonist of TOS, Harry Mudd manages to use an android to hijack the Enterprise and bring it to a planet populated entirely by androids, intending to leave the Enterprise bridge crew there in his stead (the androids need humans to serve and study, after all) while he takes the Enterprise out all across the galaxy. At the last minute the androids won't let Mudd leave, either, so he teams up with Kirk's gang to outlogic the androids. Twist ending, Mudd gets to stay behind with the androids, including 500 copies of his nagging wife.

The shenanigans and pantomimes at the end are so ridiculous and so stupid that I love them. It totally goes on for longer than it has to, but I ain't even mad. It reminds me of some of the weirdo senior theater projects I saw back in college. Ah, nostalgia.

There's still a lot of holes in this episode, like why is everyone on the Enterprise suddenly so enamored of the idea of remaining eternal captives to the androids? And like so many sequels, "I, Mudd" somehow lacks the same spirit as the original, inspiring source material. Where "Mudd's Women" does edge around some instances of solid drama and pathos, "I, Mudd" is far more goofy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My New Band, Volume 2

Some new band names from the science mines for all you aspiring musicians out there! 

What's fun about playing My New Band is that often, when I notice the name, the genre hits me right away, nine times out of ten. I didn't have to think too hard about most of these, but maybe your immediate associations are different than mine?

From unsplash

1. The Insect Resistance

I had a hard time deciding what kind of band this would be. I eventually settled on like garage punk, but I'm not sure. This one is up for debate. Do you have any ideas?

2. Not Bot Hort

Electronica of some kind.

3. South China Fruits

Something bright and cheery with a lot of horns. Ska, maybe? Or just ~world music~?

4. (The) New Zeal

As if this could be anything but a throwback swing revival band!

5. Pernicious Anemia

I think the best choice for this one is an operatic or melodic metal band. It just sounds metal-y, plus it doubles as a not-very-funny joke. (Anemia = low iron levels in the blood, iron = metal, therefore a metal band named after anemia is funny?)

Did you get any different ideas?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Times I Totally Fangirled (On the Inside)

That is how my fangirlisms roll. I'm also just not into,  like, going out? And going to places where I'd meet famous people? Or meeting famous people? Or making a spectacle of myself? But, y'know, we've all had those moments. And that's what this week's 5 Fandom Friday is all about.

5. Seeing Throne of Glass in my local Barnes & Noble

The Throne of Glass series was picked up (and selling like hotcakes!) before I really dipped a toe into the book blogosphere. I'm still not much of a book blogger, to be honest—I followed a few from #ArmchairBEA but I don't think I picked up any followers so I am mostly peeping in and creeping on all y'all—but more than one of the blogs I read (that are totally unrelated to each other, and to me, except that I read them) has lost their shit over this series.

Throne of Glass started life on FictionPress (LOL guys remember the 90s? Remember FictionPress?) and became a thing on the Internet, and that translated into a real-world money-making thing, and that's cool. But that's not why I fangirled over seeing it; I had never read it on FP and hadn't been waiting for like a billion years for it to come out in dead tree form.

I was excited because Sarah J. Maas was a fellow ENG CRW classmate from college and holy shit you guys someone I know and like wrote a book and published it and it's making megabucks and now the whole world gets to know and like her, too!

Did I just name drop? Yeah, I guess, and it's the only time in my life I'll ever get to name drop, probably, so whatever. I DO WHAT I WANT. I'm also legit happy for her and proud of her because she was definitely one of the best writers in our cohort. (Confession: when it was her group's turn to workshop something, I always put hers off until last, like dessert, because there was a lot of other stuff that was...less good. Her work was eminently readable in a way that a lot of my classmates' wasn't. SHE WOULD BE TOO NICE TO SAY SO HERSELF, but I'm an objective third party, so I can say it!) If you had me pick someone out of the group whose runaway literary success would not make me flip a table, she would have been on a short list—maybe even on the top, depending on my mood.

4. Seeing Joel Hodgson's "Riffing Myself" live

Mystery Science Theater is my one and only fandom. I'll be honest: I do not like fandom. I really don't. I don't like how inherently repetitive and unimaginative and consumerist most of it is. ("Shots fired!" I guess.) Even the word grates on me. Fandom. But the one and only thing that really triggers my obsessive fannish tendencies is Mystery Science Theater 3000. It made an impression on me at a young age, it did not grow embarrassing or cringe-inducing as I got older, and it is directly responsible for some of the most important stuff in my life. I may or may not have put off my departure to Sweden just so I could see Hodgson when he brought his show to my tiny college town.

For some extra bucks I could have had a chance to meet and greet, but what could I say? Did I need a photo with him? No, not really. I was just happy to have shared a room with him.

3. Seeing Ben Folds Five in concert (finally!)

I don't do live music that often. I should now that I live in a city and don't have drive myself places and park and so on, but I'm also broke!

I'm also a touch superstitious. One time in high school I decided to go for broke and purchase tickets to a Ben Folds Five show, only the tickets I bought that I swear were for a venue in Philadelphia on one day were actually for a venue in Atlantic City, NJ the day before and thus the gods laughed in my face. From that point on I was a little superstitious about buying tickets for any live performance—which worked out okay, since my hometown has one of the largest free music festivals in the East Coast every year and I can get more than my fill of great bands for free—but then when I heard Ben Folds was coming back to my neck of the woods I decided to try again. And I'm so glad I did.

I mentioned before that I usually fangirl on the inside. This was the one and only time I fangirled on the outside. When I saw him walk out on stage (I still remember the shirt he was wearing: a royal crayon blue) some bizarre, uncontrollable shriek fled out of my mouth, unbidden. Maybe that was the curse of the wrong tickets being lifted. Who knows?

2. Seeing a live Beakman's World show when I was, like, 10

Sorry Bill Nye, but Beakman was the TV science entertainer of my childhood. Well, him and Mr. Wizard. I remember getting so pumped when we had a "Mr. Wizard" assembly in elementary school, only to be disappointed that it wasn't actually TV's Mr. Wizard; I was afraid it was going to happen again with Beakman. But when my dad took me and my brother to the Discovery Science Center (now The Da Vinci Center), it was actually Beakman! It wasn't quite as whiz-bang-fantastical as the TV show was, but I was enthralled and I remember being disappointed I hadn't brought anything to be autographed, then wondering if he would sign my shoe. But we didn't stay for the autographs line so it was a moot point.

1. When my boyfriend saw Quentin Tarantino in a comic book shop in Stockholm

Sadly, said comic book store has since shuttered (it's hard to compete with the juggernaut that is SF Bokhandeln), but back in the day JV actually shared breathing space with Quentin Tarantino! On his (JV's) birthday!! He told me about it and he said that apparently Tarantino comes there a lot, enough that his boss was sort of nonplussed by it, and so he offered to tell QT that his girlfriend (that is, me) was a huge fan and also to ask him a couple questions, but I guess Tarantino was busy or something because he never came back to the store on that trip (at least, not while my boyfriend was working).

That happened when I was still a big fan of Tarantino's work. These days I'm a little less impressed and a little more disappointed, but back then that was a HUGE DEAL.

Are there any times where you've fanned the fuck out??

Trek Thursday: A Private Little War

#30: A Private Little War

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is doing some follow-up on a planet Kirk remembers fondly as a peaceful, primitive planet. In the intervening years, Klingons have found it and made a deal with one of the tribes and generally made a mess of things. Kirk ultimately decides to arm the other tribe as well. Also, Spock got shot.

An episode that takes place outdoors, without any awful racist stereotypes! And Spock gets shot in the first act? Nice to see the baddies have some decent aim for once. The episode starts off strong and stays strong, with good pacing and a pretty rough moral dilemma: save the hill people's lives at the risk of a permanent, escalating arms race, or hope that the village people (hah) will grow tired of killing? The Prime Directive is the big linchpin of this episode and the episode makes a pretty good case for why Federation (Starfleet?) even has it to begin with.

The episode also grasps with what, exactly, the Prime Directive means: should they give the hill people more guns? no guns at all? Sometimes there's no right or good answer and you have to wonder if Starfleet is making the universe a crappier, more violent place. It sure seems like that's what Kirk and Bones were thinking by the time they got to beaming up.

The episode is almost perfect, but not quite. Nona blows: she exists to wear a sexy Muppet costume, mess things up, and then die (thereby triggering an inevitable war/arms race on what was a near-perfect planet). It also spends a lot of time with "will he make it?" plot point ("plot point") with Spock, which might have been great tension back in the day but doesn't really age well. Of course Spock is going to make it.

Also, the way that the episode basically insists that an arms race is the one and only deterrent to total annihilation is grossly unsatisfying. Let's not try to arrange a meeting with the village people (hah) or rout the Klingons out of there, let's just give everybody weapons.