Why populism needs to go ….

May 26, 2009



I know a few very good people from California.  Genuinely nice, warm, caring, intelligent people.  It makes me wonder how their state gets into messes like this (I mean, in Illinois, we point to the corrupt bums that the parties choose to run the state (with occasional voter approval) and blame them).

The California Supreme Court just upheld their state’s ban on homosexual marriage.

OK …. I’m not really political, and the whole marriage thing isn’t my cup of tea anyhow.

What is however frightening and disturbing is the reason given ….

California has the ballot initiative.  That is any bright (and often far from bright) idea that gets enough support can go before the voters of the state and be voted into law.  It is perhaps as close a pure form of democracy as exists in our republic.  Back to the case at hand:

Chief Justice Ronald George, who has publicly stated that he is in favor of granting marriage rights to homosexuals, sided with the 6-1 decision in upholding the ban (which, I need to remind you, was implemented in a state wide ballot initiative this past Autumn).  I will quote from the article a bit:

In a sense, petitioners’ and the Attorney General‘s complaint is that it is just too easy to amend the California Constitution through the initiative process,” wrote George for the 6-1 majority. “But it is not a proper function of this court to curtail that process; we are constitutionally bound to uphold it.” Translation: Until Californians themselves change their system for amending the constitution, it will be the people – not the courts – who have final say on even the most fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution

That is a bit frightening.  Oddly enough, while I am firmly against big government and most forms of judicial activism, the one thing I never want to hear is a judge saying that justice is in the hands of a mob.  That seems to me one of the reasons a long time ago we got into the business of employing judges and lawyers in the first place.  Certainly, the federal constitution is not in danger here, but I am concerned about how law and justice seem to be back in the hands of the farmer with the pitchfork and the businessman with the torch … and that this is based on a wing and a prayer that they won’t start a witch hunt on a whim come election time.

My acting debut …

May 19, 2009


This is a link to the video created for our new school mascot …. it was supposed to be shown at he assembly I MC’ed, but sadly technical issues prevented the last half from being shown.  The actual introduction at the end was edited in after the fact.

The idea was based on idea used at the University of Miami (Ohio) when they introduced their new mascot (coincidentally, also a hawk).  The video was 100% student made, and drew rave reviews from our students and staff.  I was asked to be a part of the video, so you see a little of my acting debut, in addition to a little of me near the end.

The “schtick” is that our old mascot is getting a little too old, and needs to be upgraded and made new again …. so he heads to class and and works out to get more trim, and re-emerges younger and better than ever.

A new experience …

May 15, 2009

I’ve been teaching for a lot of years now …. and in many ways I have experienced a lot of things that other teachers have experienced, but today, I got something entirely new.

For many years, assembleys at our school were mostly run by students.  The problem was, they were generally poorly run.  The other students really didn’t like them.  So, a group of interested staff (I not being one of them) took it upon themselves to start changing these things to make them more fun for more students.  Some things have worked, and some have not.  Personally, I think that a lot more students today are just apathetic towards school as a community (or communities in general).

About two weeks ago “the committee” approached me with the need for help.  They decided that rather than having a student MC the assembley, the time had come to let a teacher try it, and that since I announced football games, that I would be good for this job.  I said yes.  I’m not sure why.  Announcing at football allows you to hide anonymously in the press box behind the fans, not get up on a stage in front of 2800 teenagers and our colleagues with the success of a semi-chaotic event in your hands.

Cutting to the chase, the assembley was today, and things went better than I thought.  There were some technical glitches, but I received many compliments from teachers and students alike.  I made a few jokes, and tried to keep the energy up …., and keep things moving.

It took most of the day to wind down from this, and it could have been worse.  The kids liked it, and no one got hurt.

Film Review: Star Trek

May 9, 2009

Spoilers?  Eh … most likely.

George Kirk …. First Officer of the USS Kelvin dies to save the life of the crew in the face of a vastly superior spacecraft crewed by Romulans.

Among the survivors whom he buys time for are his wife in the throes of labor …. and his son whom he hears crying to life moments before he dies.  That son is to be named for his mother’s father: Jim.  Thus begins the romantic life of James T. Kirk.

This is the amazing pre-credits sequence of the film … it is intense and dramatic.  (It made me think about how Star Wars: Episode III ended with Luke’s birth;  here the birth scene is in the beginning).  You are introduced to a whole new look for Star Trek.  It actually looks like something that could be in our future … which is to say that there are elements that look like they should be there, and it doesn’t appear to be missing obvious things.  Rather than a suspended reality, there looks like a hypereality.  For this, I give kudos to the designers and JJ Abrams for bringing Trek out of its own universe and into ours.  Back to a bit of the story:

Jim Kirk grows to be intelligent, and incredibly reckless;  unable to respect authority.

Did I mention he’s a bit of a womanizer …..

So it is one night he is in an Iowa bar not far from a Starfleet facility when he hits on a young cadet who only gives him her last name:  Uhura.  A few cadets defend her honor, and Kirk gets the crap kicked out of him until Captain Pike arrives to save him.  Pike has researched the incident with the Kelvin, and worships at George Kirk’s altar.  He feels that Starfleet has gone soft, and that people like George Kirk are needed …. and that if Jim could be half the man his father was, and if has ever felt like he was destined for something better, now was the time to step up.

 As you can guess … he does, and thus is born (reborn) a legend.

This is a good film … not just a good Star Trek film, but a good film.  It might be best to discuss the elements of the film that are changed from the original series presentation.

1.  Spock and his dad … Ben Cross does a great job playing the stoic Sarek.  In the original series, Spock and his father were estranged for years (not reuniting until the episode Journey to Babel).  Here, the pair may not have the best relationship, but they are hardly estranged.  I didn’t think this was a big deal.

2.  A little word analogy:  Star Wars: Alderaan:: this film: Vulcan ….. talk about not seeing this coming … I knew there were going to be changes, but obliterating Vulcan and most of its citizens was not one that I thought anyone would ever do.  Talking about rewriting history!

3.  Uhura-Spock relationship …. in the original series, it is hinted a bit at times that Uhura had a bit of a crush on Spock.  Here, Spock is one of Uhura’s teachers at Starfleet Academy.  There is something more than a crush.  The only thing I had a problem with was this …. not that Uhura was finally developed as a character (this was a major plus in this film) … but how Spock responded to it.  This was the only change I found objectionable.

4.  You finally get to see Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test … this is a major piece of lore that first came up in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan …. that all cadets training to become officers must take a simulation test which is impossible to win … to teach potential captains that there are consequences when you lose, and that you had better be able to handle situations where you aren’t successful.  Kirk famously finds a way to win.  So big a deal, there was actually a novel written about how the other characters handled the test and learned to deal with defeat.  This is an important point of the pot in this film, and you get to see Kirk finally defeat the “no-win scenario”, much to the chagrin of the man who programmed the test.

4.  Out: Engine room.  In:  Engine ROOM … a definite improvement over every single incarnation of Trek:  there was some belief that the entire ship could be powered and controlled from a 1-2 story room with square footage smaller than my living room and kitchen.  Modern aircraft carriers can’t do that … why would advanced antimatter powered starships need so little room?  Finally, someone gets the engineering right and gives the engines and power equipment a VAST amount of space.

5.  Transporter effect:  cooler!

6.  The actors … all of them … walk the fine line of paying homage to the original performances, the essence of the characters, while also taking ownership themselves.  Karl Urban really captures the essence of McCoy …. part paranoia, part loyal friend who has the guts to help you when you need to be helped, and the guts to chew you out when you need that …. Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin (Scotty and Checkov) really pay wonderful homage to the performances originally rendered by James Doohan and Walter Koenig).  Zachary Quinto (Spock), Chris Pine (Kirk) have a tighter line to walk, but also have their character written with slight differences than in the original series.  John Cho (Sulu) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura) are excellent, but are the most differently written from their original series character;  which is to say that they are finally fleshed out a bit more than in the past (the issues were not in the performances of the original actors, but in the original writing or production …. these characters were given so little to do … now they are).  Saldana’s Uhura, in particular, is given quite a bit more to do than just say “hailing frequencies open”.  It was a good step forward!

7.  Ben Cross and Winona Ryder do great jobs as Spock’s parents …. though I id not care for the MFTV film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Ben Cross’ turn as Captain Nemo showed stoicism that was perfect for the elder Vulcan.  Ryder brings her usual sense of intelligence and warmth without going overboard;  perfectly believable for a human mother in a world dominated by logic.  The makeup on Ryder made her almost unrecognizably old.

8.  Leonard Nimoy gives the pointed ears one final spin … the plot certainly does involve time travel, and I won’t go into too much detail as far as that is concerned, but our older, original Spock, plays a major part in the film, and does so well.  He is older in this film (his entrance into the plot comes sometime after the events of  The Next Generation, DS9, and Voyager), and he is a bit more emotional.  It is hard to decide which was better:  older Spock meeting young Kirk, or meeting his younger self.

9.  The villain is not the strongest villain we’ve ever seen … Eric Bana plays Nero, a Romulan on a mission to not only put history in the blender, but seek a very particular form of revenge on one person.  The first time we see him, he is great.  After that, he just doesn’t seem as threatening … he seems very beatable compared to other villains we’ve seen in Trek films (the Borg Queen, Shinzon, Khan).  I cannot tell if the breakdown was in the writing, the acting, or the production, but this was the one weak link I saw in terms of characters.

10.  The humor is good.  One thing that never seemed to happen in the original series was humor at Kirk’s expense (and given a character with that level of chutzpah, you would think that would be funny).  This is corrected here.  Scotty and Bones have their usual moments of humor (yes, there is one “I’m a doctor, not a _______” lines, as well as an “I’m giving her all she’s got”.  The writers and production staff knew  that there were things that should be kept.

In short, I suspect that this ended up going a little bit the way of Battlestar Galactica.  JJ Abrams chose to keep the best parts;  maybe even some nostalgia that wasn’t the best but wouldn’t get in the way, and replace the rest.  In some cases, there were things that had never been included in the original series, but had been hinted at in the long series of novels or in the animated series (Spock being teased as a boy;  the source of McCoy’s nickname “Bones”.

As I noted in an earlier posting about mythology, there are entire broad parts of the original series that were thrown out.

A.  In the episode A Piece of the Action, Kirk and co. are on a planet run by aliens who have modeled their society on 1920s era Chicago gangsters.  Kirk gets into a car, and can’t make it work because he has never driven a car.  That is clearly not the case, as he does a good job driving his stepfather’s antique car as a young kid.

B.  It is established in the series that Kirk did served as a young lieutennant for a few years on the USS Republic and USS Farragut.  This was a key point in the episode Obsession in which Captain Kirk encounters a creature that killed a large number of his crew on the Farragut, and he gets the opportunity to prevent any more deaths by the creature …. or revenge.  In the film, Kirk goes from cadet to first officer to captain.

C.  Perhaps most importantly, Captain Pike was depicted as the first captain of the Enterprise (which he is), and that he and Spock served together on the Enterprise for years, including a faithful trip to the planet Talos IV where Pike is captured by aliens who can make him live any fantasy or nightmare.  A dying race, they need a new breeding stock.  Pike is able to escape, and the Federation, too frightened to ever allow anyone to return and become captured for a stud farm, passes General Order #7:  visit Talos IV, and you are faced with execution;  the last piece of capital punishment left in the Federation.  This film establishes that it is the Enterprise‘s maiden voyage, so these events also never happen.  These events are the plot outline of one of the best episodes of the original series, The Menagerie.

D.  Another outstanding episode of the original series is The Conscience of the King, in which Kirk confronts an old Shakespearean actor who may be a former colony governor who murdered 4,000 colonists, including parts of Kirk’s family (Kirk was one of the survivors).  This is not alluded to, but it seems to suggest that it never did happen.

Thus …. Star Trek officially becomes mythology.

I’m not sure a sequel is in the works yet, but the team has brought Star Trek into the realm of mythology:  the details, places, things, and names may all change a little of a lot, but the essence will survive intact.  This is a film very worthy of being seen on a big screen!

Over and done?

May 6, 2009

After a brief respite that saw my mom move back in with my father while he saught some treatment, my mother has now moved out apparently for good.


My father had gone to see a doctor, and had been prescribed anabuse, which is a drug that is supposed to make the user extremely sick if they drink alcohol.  My father had been on it, but then stopped taking it so he could resume drinking.  He has not talked to me in several weeks.

My sister has already put forward her plans for “what to do if dad won’t be at the wedding”.  Mom will give her away, and our Uncle Mike, her godfather, will dance with her in place of dad.