Links and Comments: Tribal Loyalty and Values v. Reality

NY Times: The 15 Best-Educated Congressional Districts in the U.S..

All but two of which, including the just contested Georgia district north of Atlanta, are solidly Democratic. Hmm.

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Also: Trump’s Lies, a comprehensive, up-to-date list. It’s not surprising that Trump lies (or at least shades what he says to fit the moment, or the crowd, without any concern for intellectual honesty or self-consistency), it’s that so many people, still, don’t seem to care.

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And they don’t care because politics is about tribal loyalty and subjective ‘values’, not recognition or reality or respect for truth.

Vox, Matthew Yglesias: he health bill might pass because Trump has launched the era of Nothing Matters politics, subtitled, “When in doubt, lie and distract.”

The watchwords of Trump-era politics are “LOL nothing matters.” If you’re in a jam, you just lie about it. If you’re caught in an embarrassing situation, you create a new provocation and hope that people move on. Everything is founded, most of all, on the assumption that the basic tribal impulses of negative partisanship will keep everyone on their side, while knowing that gerrymandering means Republicans will win every toss-up election. If you happened to believe that Republicans in office would deliver on their health care promises, well, you might be interested in a degree from Trump University.

And, Slate, Food Evolution Is Scientifically Accurate. Too Bad It Won’t Convince Anyone., subtitled, “The new documentary misses that the debate over GMOs isn’t about facts. It’s about values.”

When the topic of GMOs comes up at dinner parties, I am the skunk who will gently remind everyone of everything Tyson says about GMO safety in Food Evolution. I have a litany of facts and studies that I cite. After listening politely and patting me on the head like a child out of his depth, they always checkmate me with, “What about Monsanto?”

It’s hard to overstate the significance of that albatross on the GMO debate. …

Of course, the reality is that it is possible for Monsanto to be terrible and for GMOs to still be safe. …

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Via, Laura Huss at Rewire: Study: Anti-Abortion State Laws Deny Science, subtitled, “Are you surprised? A recent Guttmacher Institute report systematically documents anti-choice laws and the research that debunks their claims.”

Because conservatives and the faithful *know* things to be so, no matter any evidence otherwise.

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Yet it’s that this is essentially *tribalistic* thinking — not motivated by faith — is the only way I can understand the paradox captured in this article.

Forward Progressives: A 5-Step Guide: Explaining Christianity to Republicans, by Allen Clifton.

The five steps (with paragraphs of explanation):

  1. Help the helpless, provide for the needy
  2. Be kind to others and don’t judge those who are different than you.
  3. Be hopeful
  4. Don’t be a hypocrite
  5. Stop being driven by green

I will quote his expansion of item #3, since it resonates with the quote from LA Times at the bottom of this post, about how NRA conventioneers are so motivated by fear. Here’s Clifton (with his links retained):

Republicans are nothing if not paranoid and afraid of damn near everything. From immigrants invading the United States, to Muslims enacting Sharia law to President Obama confiscating guns – I could spend hours dissecting how many conspiracies I’ve seen Republicans perpetuate over the years and how none of them actually came true. Besides, as people of faith, what’s there to be so scared of? If you truly have faith that God’s in control, shouldn’t your faith always be that blanket of hope that guides you through life? I’m not quite sure how someone can say they have the utmost faith in their God – while seemingly having no faith in that same God’s “plan.”

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Politics, Science | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Tribal Loyalty and Values v. Reality

Absolute Annihilation: TOS #20: “The Alternative Factor”

Kirk wrestles with a bizarre pair of near-duplicate antagonists whose meeting threatens to wipe out the entire universe.



  • This is in the running for worst Trek episode ever, with an incoherent premise, overwrought acting, and sloppy writing and direction.
  • The story set-up is routine: the Enterprise is conducting a survey of an ordinary, albeit arid, planet. (With an “oxygen-hydrogen” atmosphere, says Spock – really? Presumably scripters meant oxygen-nitrogen.)
  • Then some violent event rocks the ship, and who knows what else, which we see depicted as an image of the Trifid Nebula (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trifid_Nebula) – not the galaxy, as Cushman says – that is superimposed over our view of the bridge, and whirls in and out for a few moments, then stops. What was that? Spock announces that it’s as everything suddenly ‘winked-out’ – a moment of nonexistence. Moreover, the formerly barren planet below now shows evidence of a single human on the surface.
  • Three plot lines commence.
  • First, a crew beams down to the planet surface – yet another episode filmed at Vasquez Rocks – where they discover the lone human, a crazed man named Lazarus who talks about battling an enemy in a ‘holy cause’, an enemy who destroyed an entire civilization and who must be killed. They take him up to the Enterprise.
  • Second, a Lt. Commander Charlene Masters reports to Kirk that the event has drained the ship’s dilithium crystals, without which the ship’s orbit will decay in 10 hours. [Another instance of the Trek physics issue that orbits decay unless the ship maintains constant power.] Kirk orders her to ‘reamplify’ the crystals, and subsequently we see Masters and her assistant doing so in a special Engineering set we’ve not seen before.
  • Third, Kirk learns from a commodore at Starfleet Command (apparently they have instantaneous communication) that this blinking-out effect has appeared over a wide area, “and far beyond”, and this commodore is ordering evacuation of all Starfleet units and personnel within 100 parsecs. (Really?? 100 parsecs? *Evacuation*? Of hundreds and people and facilities out of an area 100 parsecs around?) Leaving the Enterprise to handle this problem all by itself.
    • Because it was dumb luck that the Enterprise just happened to be near the planet where this cosmos-threatening winking-out event occurred. What greater coincidence could there be in all of literature or pop-culture?
  • Sloppy writing: once aboard the Enterprise, Lazarus is allowed to just roam around the ship. We see the ‘blinking out’/Triffid Nebula effect again and again, and though no one else apparently notices, we see that Lazarus changes: the raving maniac with a bandage on his forehead is switched for a calmer, rational Lazarus with no wound to the forehead. McCoy does notice, but by the time he notifies Kirk, the effect has happened again.
  • For some reason Lazarus hears about the dilithium crystals, and for some reason they are exactly what he needs for his own little ship – a bubble-headed saucer prop perched down among Vasquez Rocks – and plots to steal them. (Curiously, there’s never a plot point about investigating this little spaceship.) This involves Masters and her crystal recharging room.
  • Once Lazarus installs the crystals in his own ship, he’s able to activate his ship and appears in some kind of negative/magnetic corridor, fighting another person – these scenes shot in negative effect, with a tilting camera to make the scene look unsteady.
  • In a scene with Spock and Kirk in the briefing room, the two make a series of remarkable deductions: that since there are (they realize by now) two Lazaruses, and since the radiation they detect from the planet is not from their universe…that there are therefore two parallel universes. That they must be positive and negative. Like matter and antimatter. Meaning if the two Lazaruses meet, that would result of complete annihilation – of *everything*.
    • This is a series of analogies masquerading as scientific deduction. For instance – why might there not be an infinite series of parallel universes?
    • Anyway, no, the two Lazaruses meeting would not result in complete annihilation – it would only result in the annihilation of the pair of Lazaruses.
    • Ironically, the idea of anti-matter shows up later in the series, not mentioned as yet, as being the source of power of the Enterprise engines, i.e. a fuel source, not a danger to the existence of the universe.
  • Further scenes on the planet, i.e. at Vasquez Rocks, involve Lazarus falling off a high rock a second time, Kirk accidentally transporting into the ‘magnetic corridor’ that connects the two universes, and Kirk wrestling the evil Lazarus into that same corridor – with two security guards standing placidly in the background – in order to trap him there.
  • Kirk meets the rational Lazarus, who explains what’s going on, how his civilization discovered the existence of a parallel, opposite universe, and this so enraged the maniac Lazarus, he became obsessed with destroying his duplicate.
  • The plan to resolve this is to trap the two Lazaruses in the corridor, and then for the Enterprise to destroy Lazarus’ ship on the planet, so they can’t escape. Leaving the two trapped in the corridor forever.
  • Which they do.
  • Why not just destroy the ship in the first place, cutting off the transfer?
  • Why is there one scene, the one with Kirk and the sane Lazarus, obviously filmed on a sound stage? And why in this scene is Kirk standing with casually folded arms, as if they are not talking about the existence of all existence?
  • Cushman’s book has two back-stories to the production of this episode that are more interesting than the episode itself.
  • First, the character of Charlene Masters was written in early drafts to be a love-interest to Lazarus. This was rejected by Coon because of the similarity to a plot point in another script in development, “Space Seed”; and thus some of the scenes here, such as the one in the rec room, are stubs of their original selves. Also, it was a tad daring for the time, apparently, for the actress to appear with a natural ‘afro’ hair-style, however short, rather than the stylized straight hair that black actresses at the time, including Nichelle Nichols, typically wore.
  • Second, the actor who played Lazarus, Robert Brown, was a last-minute recruit to replace the actor originally hired, John Drew Barrymore, who objected to late changes in the script and refused to show up for filming. Brown was hired the Monday night before filming with his character began on Tuesday.
Posted in Star Trek | Comments Off on Absolute Annihilation: TOS #20: “The Alternative Factor”

A Most Promising Species: TOS #19: “Arena”

Kirk is pitted in a one-on-one contest with the reptilian alien captain of a starship that destroyed a Federation outpost.

  • This is the famous episode, filmed on location (again at Vasquez Rocks), in which Kirk battles this green reptilian (though standing upright in humanoid fashion) ‘Gorn’ in hand-to-hand combat, with stunts and effects that look dated 50 years later, but which became classic and remains instantly recognizable. There was nothing else like it, in Trek, or any other show up until then.
  • Fully half the episode, though, is padding—the events leading up to Kirk and the Gorn being isolated. These scenes begin as the Enterprise arrives at a Federation outpost on Cestus III and discovers that the base has been wiped out.
  • (So the voice messages from Commodore Travers on the base inviting them down were faked? There’s a lot of that going around in recent episodes; and this time they must have been faked by the Gorns!)
  • The impressive live set of the Cestus III outpost had been built in 1956 for a TV series about a British Calvary unit in India, per Cushman’s book. It remained for many years before being torn down when Vasquez Rocks became a county park.
  • These early scenes include several innovations, first-time mentions of familiar concepts in Trek, including the first use of ‘photon torpedoes’ (with their distinctive sound) by the Enterprise, and the first mention of the term ‘Federation’, both contributions of scriptwriter Gene L. Coon. We also see Spock wearing an earpiece like Uhura, and uses of the terms ‘azimuth’ (for directions on the ground) and ‘parsecs’ (for distances in space); also some odd nomenclature in which the ship position is specified as 2279 PL, which a planetary system ahead is placed at 2466 PM. No idea what these were supposed to mean.
  • Trek astronomy vs. rote special effects: as the Enterprises approaches a solar system ahead, and stars still stream past in the special effects.
  • The set up scenes strike me as rather hasty in jumping to the conclusion, based on a destroyed base and a fleeing alien ship, that the Federation faces invasion—and, Kirk decides, the Enterprise must therefore pursue and destroy the alien. Spock does caution concern for other sentient life, in a nod toward Trek humanistic values.
  • In a dramatic if implausible scene, both the alien ship and the Federation are forced to an abrupt halt, rapidly decelerating from high warp speeds to a complete standstill. Sulu calls out their falling warp velocities. (Does dropping in warp speed involve everyone on the bridge being thrown forward somewhat, but not enough to splatter them against the front wall of the bridge? Apparently.)
  • And then an alien presence appears on their screen, a Metron, accusing both ships of invading their planet’s territory. We don’t see the alien itself, just some rapidly swirling lights, but hear the voice, in English, a calm, placid, wise voice. Somehow I haven’t remembered, if I ever knew, that the voice here is that of Vic Perrin, most famous for narrating the “Control Voice” opening of the earlier TV series “The Outer Limits” – in fact, here it is — and just as in that narration, the voice says “We are controlling transmission…” in this episode the Metron, explaining the duel to commence, says, “We will control them…”
  • Cushman’s book even states that the producers deliberately wanted to emulate the Outer Limits Control Voice, and so hired Perrin.
  • In a sexist bit, as Kirk vanishes from the bridge, Uhura, the only woman around, screams.
  • The clever and arresting premise of the show, alas, was not original, and famously the screenwriter, producer Gene L. Coon, wrote the first draft over a weekend and sent it to the network, NBC, for initial approval, after which NBC’s staff discovered that the script shared the basic premise and many plot points with a 1944 short story by Fredric Brown with the same name. So the studio contacted Brown for approval. He gave it, and was given retroactive ‘story’ credit for the show. Coon, presumably, had read the story years before and remembered the idea, but not the source.
  • Another new device: both Kirk and the Gorn are given handheld translator devices to communicate with each other. These props turned up in later episodes as standard issue Enterprise equipment, for the same purpose.
  • The groundside battle commences. The Gorn is strong, but slow; Kirk is nimble, but not strong enough to land effective blows.
  • At some point the Enterprise bridge crew is given a view of the battle on their main monitor. They see, as Kirk discovers, deposits of various minerals and other substances strewn among the rocks: white powder, yellow powder, diamonds, coal, bamboo. The Metron advised that resources would be present to make weapons. And so as Kirk deduces what can be done with them, Spock watches in admiration, and says to McCoy: “He knows, Doctor, he has reasoned it out.” (But how many people today, let alone 300 years from now, would know enough basic chemistry to be able to recreate gunpowder?)
  • Meanwhile time Kirk and the Gorn talk, and the Gorn accuses the Federation base of intruding on the Gorn territory. McCoy, watching, is taken aback: “Then we could be in the wrong.” The Gorn were just protecting their territory.
  • This is a nice sentiment, another nod toward Trek values that don’t automatically assign aliens to be the bad guys; but it doesn’t quite excuse why the Gorn would have simply wiped out the human outpost without warning.
  • In the finale, Kirk creates a weapon, a kind of cannon, and brings the Gorn down. Kirk can use a diamond blade to stab the Gorn to death… but does not. He pauses, and calls up into the sky, to the Metrons, No, I won’t do it!
  • And so the Metron appears, in the guise of young boy (with Vic Perrin’s voice), casually mentioning that he is 1500 years old, and expresses admiration for Kirk’s compassion. “By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy. Something we hardly expected.” And, “You are still half savage. But there is hope.”
  • This, as with the previous episode, is one of the great Trek reveals, and a signal indicator of the broad vision Trek takes of humankind’s capability for growth, and its junior presence in the galactic scheme of things.
  • And both Kirk and the Gorn captain are returned to their ships, with an implication of later diplomatic contact.
  • In a final, almost gratuitous plot twist (made presumably just to avoid the imminent diplomatic contact just implied), the Enterprise is hurled 500 parsecs across space. Sulu is shocked at the positions of Sirius, Canopus, and Arcanis. (The last star name is fictitious.) And so the Enterprise sets off, back to Cestus III (why?), at warp 1 (i.e. the speed of light, which will entail some 1700 years to travel 500 parsecs; but Trek was never very careful about these issues).
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Frequency Interactions

When I was a teenager, in the Fall of 1971 just after I turned 16 years old, and just a few months after my family had returned to California from a three-year stay in Illinois, I took a typing course at James Monroe High School, in the 11th grade, and my family (for some reason I don’t recall) acquired a small, portable typewriter, which I immediately took possession of, and kept in my room. To practice my typing, I began a sort of journal. The early months and year of this ‘journal’ consisted of much japery — spoofs of strange meanings of made-up foreign words, riffs on songs and TV lines. Over the next couple years, it congealed, if that’s the word, to a more conventional diary-like journal.

(Irony: the reason I took a typing course was that, entering a new school and despite having exemplary grade reports from my high school in Illinois, the staff at James Monroe was reluctant to enroll me in too many academic courses, let alone advanced placement courses. Thus, between my years in high school in Illinois and California, I never did have a formal American History course, or Biology course. The irony is that having learned typing at that age proved a great advantage in later years.)

In those early years, sitting in my bedroom in our house on Hayvenhurst Avenue, with my parents and three other kids younger than me, I can’t now imagine what my parents must have thought, as I sat banging away on that typewriter in the afternoons and evenings and weekends. (Did my mother peak into my room when I was away at school to see what I was doing? It never occurred to me at the time, but in retrospect it seems inevitable.)

As my typing settled into a conventional journal, I would write as if addressing some hypothetical person interested in what I thought and what I was doing. Is that the typical stance? Who does one write a diary to?

Of course I now, as perhaps I realized even then, understand that the person I was writing to was me, myself decades years later. And I deeply appreciate my early effort.

I’ve been preoccupied this past week — to the point of neglecting posts on other topics on this blog — with reviewing these early journals, in concert with my gathering of old family photos, especially of Apple Valley, and reflecting on what it all means, and how my living there influenced, or perhaps reflected, my personal inclinations and the life I was to lead.

My typewritten journal went through the mid-1980s, until it was overtaken by learning to use computers (at work, at first), and keeping logs and journals electronically, rather than on a noisy typewriter. The typewritten journal got fairly sophisticated over the years, combining the requisite angst of young adulthood with perception and understanding of the greater world that, all these years later, is not dis-respectable.

In particular, every entry in my journal had a title. Trends in titles changed over the years. Early ones were nonsensical, that is playful ploys on languages; some later years used single words, or two word ‘the xx’ phrases. Later ones — by 1980 and following — employed fanciful poetic or philosophical terms, phrases with suggestive meanings but no obvious allusion to the topic under discussion in that post, mixed in with quotations from songs or plays that had come to my attention. All these years later, looking back on them, I’m impressed. How can I re-use them? Well, here’s one.

And some similar ones, all from 1980:

Clouds, from the Four Quarters of the Universe

Collective Extremities

Science Fiction Distillations [years later, my short fiction review column in Locus, beginning 1988, was called “Distillations”]

Depth Structures

The Whiteness of the Dawn

Sublime Disparities

Transient Continuities

Conjectures on Ships that Sail the Moon

Shadows of Starlight and Symphonies of Mind

Prickling Dissonance

Tapestry of Refulgent Fuligin [my review of Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer]

Circular Explorations

The Last Day of the Old World

Always There Will be Greater

Transparency Contexts

Presence Fixes

Dreams that Can’t Come True

…and many more. In retrospect, it’s sad, I admit, that I was unable to channel these creative urges, for whatever they might have been worth, to anything beyond my personal journal.

Posted in Personal history | Comments Off on Frequency Interactions

Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”

Carl Sagan, one of the great scientist-communicators to the general public of the past century, author of the 1980 book Cosmos and host of the 1980 TV series of that name, has a list of ideas for how to evaluate any kind of claim, a “Baloney Detection Kit”, described many times and recently posted again here: 9 questions Carl Sagan encourages you to ask before believing anything anyone has to say.

Briefly:

  1. Independently confirm ‘facts’
  2. Encourage debate
  3. There are no authorities, but there are experts
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis
  5. Don’t become attached to a hypothesis because it’s yours
  6. Quantify
  7. Examine every link in a chain of arguments
  8. Occam’s Razor
  9. Always consider if a given hypothesis can be falsified; beware if not
Posted in MInd, Psychology, Science | Comments Off on Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”

Studying My Predators: TOS #18: “The Squire of Gothos”

The Enterprise encounters a remote planet where a foppish ‘squire’ insists on entertaining (and studying) them and challenging them to the death when they refuse.

  • I’m fascinated in retrospect by how episodes open, about what is going on before the Enterprise and its crew encounter whatever challenge will form the basis of this week’s story. Sometimes these are just as interesting as the main story, for what they reveal about how daily life aboard the Enterprise works, or what the writers and producers imply about the ship’s mission.
  • In this case, the opening establishes that the Enterprise is crossing some kind of ‘star void’ on its way to Beta VI, which it will reach in 8 days, and that they’re 900 light years from Earth. Routine on the bridge: we see a (female) yeoman passing out coffee; we have yet another navigator, this time DeSalle (for some reason they didn’t settle on a regular navigator character – Chekov – until the second season).
  • The ‘star void’ notion is a curious one, of no particular importance (and such an idea is never mentioned in any other episode), except presumably to underscore how odd it is for the Enterprise to come across a lone planet ahead in their path, as they do. As they approach the planet, Sulu, trying to change course, abruptly vanishes from the bridge, and then so does Kirk. Spock shouts out “full reverse power!” a bit oddly since they haven’t actually reached the planet yet. End of Teaser.
  • Spock orders the ship to orbit the mysterious rogue planet, as messages begin to appear on their screens, e.g. “Greetings and Felicitations.” Spock sends a landing party down to the planet, to the one small area that seems livable – McCoy, DeSalle, and a geologist named Jaeger – and the planet we see, in this episode, is a staged planet set (unusually, featuring numerous trees instead of sand and fake boulders). Nearby is the front of a small castle.
  • They enter the castle and discover Kirk and Sulu, frozen in position, and then Squire Trelane, playing a harpsichord, a foppish chatterbox who releases the frozen men and welcomes them all as examples of the savage Earth culture he’s been studying. As he admires humans for their missions of conquest, noting them as a “predator species that preys even on itself,” Kirk and the others realize Trelane knows only what Earth was like 900 years ago, given the distance this planet is from Earth. The subtext here is in line with Trek’s progressive vision of the future: that the violent past of the human species has been overcome.
  • William Campbell is great in the role; Cushman’s book mentions that Roddy McDowell was originally considered, and he would have been good too.
  • Spock, disapproving of Trelane’s antics, has a good line: “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” To which Trelane replies, delightedly, “Why, Mr. Spock, you do have one saving grace after all—you’re ill mannered!”
  • Kirk keeps insisting they be allowed to depart, and Trelane keeps forcing them to stay, until the situation devolves into a personal duel between Trelane and Kirk, with antique pistols. Kirk takes the opportunity to destroy a mirror he thinks is the source of Trelane’s power.
  • The Enterprise departs, only to have the planet Gothos appear in their path again and again, as if by magic (or superfantastic alien powers). There’s some typically wrong intuitive physics going on here, as the Enterprise veers first one way, then another, to evade the planet, and everyone on the bridge *sways* first one way, then the other, as this happens. As if the velocities and accelerations involved have only that very minor effect on the bridge crew’s ability to keep standing.
  • A brief trial scene between Kirk and Trelane leads to a chase through the woods outside, until Kirk realizes he can call Trelane’s bluff, and simply breaks Trelane’s sword. Trelane reacts in childish hurt, and Kirk scolds him like a child. “You have a lot to learn about winning, Trelane. In fact, you’ve got a lot to learn about everything, haven’t you?”
  • Which sets up the story’s resolution, with a blatant deus ex machina that is also one of the best Trek reveals: two glowing lights appear above them, shining a light down upon Trelane, and speak as his parents, “It’s time to come in now, come along.” Trelane complains, “I haven’t finished studying my predators yet!” and the parents reply, “This is not ‘studying’ them. If you cannot take proper care of your pets, you cannot have them at all.” Trelane whines, “I was winning! I coulda won!” The parents apologize to Kirk, and let him return to his ship, as Trelane fades away.
  • This is great because it undermines the simple premise that Trelane is some powerful, malicious alien – he is that, but he’s also a child, and that explains what’s gone on so much more completely. It also echoes a recurring Trek theme, one also just mentioned regarding “Shore Leave”– that the universe is filled other powerful races whose presence only incidentally overlaps human exploration of space. It’s this repeated demoting of humanity as being the boss of outer space that gives the Enterprise’s missions their own special but limited significance, a certain humbleness to the human endeavor, and gives the show such open-ended potential. (A potential that, I think, was lost in later Trek series that devolved into politics between the Federation and the Klingons, e.g.)
  • Music notes: “Vina’s theme” underscores Trelane’s parents; the cat and mouse between Enterprise and Gothos is set to the Fesarius theme. A lengthy post about TOS first season music will soon be posted.
  • And then the episode ends with the by-now obligatory humorous note. Kirk wonders if Spock didn’t also play pranks as a boy—“Dipping little girls curls in inkwells. Stealing apples from the neighbor’s trees. Tying cans on…”, before Spock gives him a droll look. Anachronistic, too.
  • Final thought, watching the end credits of this episode: I wonder if anyone has explored the idea that the stills of scenes from other episodes, shown under the end credits, often revealed episodes that had not been aired yet. Teasers of a sort, for not just next week’s episodes, but for other episodes yet to come! In this case, the end credits show a scene from “The Return of the Archons”, four episodes on from “The Squire of Gothos” in production order, though presumably done by the time final post-production of “Gothos” got it ready to air.
Posted in Star Trek | Comments Off on Studying My Predators: TOS #18: “The Squire of Gothos”

Linkdump: Science, society, conspiracy theories, the fear of NRA conventioneers

Science:

The Atlantic: Are We Living in a Giant Cosmic Void?. Maybe.

Scientific American: How the Science of “Blue Lies” May Explain Trump’s Support. Subtitle: “They are a very particular form of deception that can build solidarity within groups”

Guardian: Oldest Homo sapiens bones ever found shake foundations of the human story. (Well, newspaper headlines often exaggerate; but the history of science is a steady progression of filling in details and expanding the limits of what was previously thought settled.)

Sam Harris interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Moral Complexity of Genetics. Mukherjee wrote the acclaimed book The Gene.

New York Times Sunday Review, Gray Matter column: You’re Not Going to Change Your Mind. It’s not just about confirmation bias:

But what if confirmation bias isn’t the only culprit? It recently struck us that confirmation bias is often conflated with “telling people what they want to hear,” which is actually a distinct phenomenon known as desirability bias, or the tendency to credit information you want to believe. Though there is a clear difference between what you believe and what you want to believe — a pessimist may expect the worst but hope for the best — when it comes to political beliefs, they are frequently aligned.

Jerry Coyne comments on Sean Illing’s interview of Robert Sapolsky

Psychology Today, via Alternet: The Deep Roots of Left vs. Right. Subtitle: And how to get both wings to fly together.

(This relates to my thought that, no matter what I might personally think is true or right, it takes a range of personalities and psychologies for a society to be functional. If everyone were just like me — or you– it wouldn’t work.)

Remembering that what we’re all really negotiating—the right balance of constraint and freedom, security and liberty—may make us more receptive to negotiation, and smarter negotiators too, not taken in by hyperbolic half-truths about the one true way.

Society:

QZ.com: A ‘coastal elite’ named Marie Myung-Ok Lee takes a car trip across southern US with her autistic son, and concludes, My road trip through Trump country taught me that staying in the liberal bubble has its advantages.

ThinkProgress: The strange origins of the GOP ideology that rejects caring for the poor. Subtitle: “No, that’s not what Jesus says.”

Handy term: Overton Window: the range of ideas the public will accept. It shifts over time, generally in a progressive direction — you don’t see conservatives campaigning against women’s suffrage, as they might have done a century ago — but lately the alt-right has made claims that their views — of nationalism, racism, white purity, etc., — has shifted this window back.

Is this an example?

Patheos.com: Wisconsin State Rep: ‘The Earth Is 6,000 Years Old, That’s A Fact’

Skeptoid.com: There Is No Finland: Birth of a Conspiracy Theory. Some people will believe anything.

LA Times Op-Ed: What happened when a 64-year-old liberal attended his first NRA convention

One common thread among the conventioneers I met was fear. Real, genuine fear. But that’s no accident. Protecting yourself from crime, real and imagined, is what the NRA is all about. The NRA’s America, unrecognizable to the vast majority of Americans except from television, is a very dangerous place. Lawlessness, crime and violence reign. Rioters rule the streets. Islamic terrorists are coming to your town. Unarmed women are rape bait. Unarmed men are cowards. It is twilight in America and no one is going to defend you. Except you.

NY times, Masha Gessen: Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Our Democracy. “History shows that stupidity and autocracy aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand.”

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Cosmology, Lunacy, MInd, Psychology, Science | Comments Off on Linkdump: Science, society, conspiracy theories, the fear of NRA conventioneers

The Need for Play: TOS #17: “Shore Leave”

The Enterprise visits a lovely planet where they discover that their daydreams and memories become instant reality.

  • This is a fun episode, but also sort of a kitchen-sink episode, in which many colorful things happen without much relationship to one another. You could swap out any of these independent storylines with any similar random events, and it wouldn’t matter.
  • This is a rare episode shot on location – not on a soundstage and not even on a backlot, like “Miri”, but away from the studio in a real natural setting. I didn’t know, until now, via Cushman’s book, where that location was. It’s a place called Africa USA, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_World/Africa_USA, north of Los Angeles in Soledad Canyon. It’s a wide spot in the Santa Clara river where an animal training compound was established in 1962. Coincidentally, I knew the area well, in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, when I was very into bicycling, and would ride long trips on weekends in every direction from the San Fernando Valley. I both bicycled and drove through Soledad Canyon many times; it was a backroad route on the way to Apple Valley, as well. (The area is also near where Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” was filmed.)
  • The compound was washed out in 1969, according to Wikipedia, and never rebuilt. As you watch this show, you see the river (not a lake) in several shots, and in the background, the dry desert-like hills on either side of this river valley.
  • A secondary location in this episode is the famous Vasquez Rocks (which was also used for two of the following three Trek episodes). Vasquez Rocks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks) is likely one of the most familiar locations in TV and movie in history – those big slabs of angled sedimentary layers are instantly recognizable. You still see them routinely used in TV car commercials.
  • The episode’s story is familiar: the crew prepares to beam down to this idyllic planet to enjoy a shore leave after a weary three months in space, but strange things start happening: McCoy see a large white rabbit and little girl, straight out of Alice in Wonderland; Sulu finds a police pistol like one he always wanted; Yeoman Barrows meets Don Juan; Kirk meets both an old Academy prankster, Finnegan, and an old flame from 15 years before, Ruth.
  • It takes them a while to deduce the obvious: that these things appear in response to their thoughts about them, whether those things are imaginary or are memories from their pasts. And these things can be dangerous: both McCoy and a female crewman are apparently killed!
  • On the other hand, they all get some kind of emotional satisfaction from these events. Kirk has a five-minute brawl with Finnegan (surely the most spectacular fist-fight in the entire series), and realizes, at the end, that he enjoyed it – it was something he’d always wanted to do.
  • The story also features a recurring element necessary for story tension: the landing party gets cut off from the Enterprise via some convenient energy field, or radiation, or whatever. ‘Convenient’ because otherwise the landing party could just pull out their communicators and say “beam me up”! Time and again in these Trek episodes, you can see that such a random story element occurs precisely to prevent this from happening; otherwise the story would quickly be over. (We’ve already seen this in “Miri”, where the communicators get stolen; “The Galileo Seven”, where the effects of the “quasar-like phenomenon” cut off communications between the shuttlecraft and the Enterprise; and “Dagger of the Mind”, where a force field prevents a rescue party from beaming down.)
  • McCoy’s death in this episode was a legitimate shock, as Cushman points out. While in general, long before Game of Thrones, you could trust that the lead characters in an ongoing TV series could not die – if they seemed to, somehow it would be a trick, or they would be brought back – at this point in Trek’s first season, DeForest Kelley was not a named star in the series’ opening credits, and regular viewers had already seen one recurring character, Yeoman Rand, disappear from the show without explanation (as mentioned earlier, it was mostly about the difficulty of maintaining her suggestive relationship with Kirk). So anyone watching this episode when first broadcast might have legitimately been shocked by McCoy’s death. Of course, the guarantee of returning stars didn’t stop this gimmick from being used in future episodes – Kirk’s death, at Spock’s hands, in 2nd season “Amok Time”, for instance. You knew that Kirk couldn’t die, so the suspense was more about how his apparent death would be rationalized.
  • Cushman also describes an interesting production decision, by the film editor for this episode, Fabien Tordjmann. Filming of the show at Vasquez Rocks included numerous shots of Finnegan (played by Bruce Mars) taunting Kirk from various spots over the rocks, and when Tordjmann got all the footage, he had a hard time piecing it together to look like a coherent straight line action sequence. So he decided to emphasize the randomness of Finnegan’s appearances, adding a bit of surrealism to the show, as if various versions of Finnegan were taunting Kirk from different places. When the producers and director saw the result, they loved it.
  • At the end a kindly caretaker appears, a member of the advanced race that built this planet as a kind of ‘amusement park’. He explains that none of the effects are permanent: McCoy and Angela are just fine (and they both reappear, unscathed). It’s a planet for ‘play’. Kirk provides the key insight, and the central line of this episode: “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”
  • This is another example of how in Trek the human crew on the Enterprise encountered advanced aliens whose presences only incidentally overlap with human exploration of space. I think this was a constant theme throughout the series, one perhaps not as appreciated as the humanistic idea that mankind had solved its own internal conflicts and had built an idealistic society.
  • Cushman provides considerable background about the development of the script, written by the famed SF author Theodore Sturgeon but then heavily rewritten by Gene Coon and Gene Roddenberry, the latter rewriting scenes on location as the show was being filmed. Sturgeon’s concept was over-the-top and potentially very expensive (showing, e.g., mechanical arms reaching up out of the surface of the planet to remove the dead or deposit imagined artifacts). And the network wanted the fantasy elements toned down. And the network didn’t want another ‘illusion’ show after “The Menagerie”, an obvious concept the crew might have considered anyway, but is brushed aside with a single line of dialogue.
  • The episode ends with another humorous tag, as the bridge crew chuckle about something Spock says; another Gene Coon touch, presumably, here more appropriate than most, as Spock repeats his objection to the idea of spending energy to relax.
  • The music is by Gerald Fried, his first for the series, and resembles the episode: a variety of interesting components that have very little to do with one another. I’ll discuss the score in a separate post about the first season TOS music.
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Links and Comments: Tribal Epistemology

Out of all the links compiled for my previous links post, this is the most substantial, the one I have enough comments on to put in a separate post.

19 May: Vox, David Roberts: Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology

Very long essay about how the media should or can respond to the problems of fake news and a divided American culture.

Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

Includes that diagram of news sources that shows how Trump supporters rely on Breitbart, Daily Caller, and Fox News.

The devolution of the right into unchecked tribal epistemology has involved, among other things, an absolute torrent of nonsense.

Millions of self-identified conservatives, in many cases majorities, believe that the Clintons have been involved in multiple murders, Sharia law has taken hold in the US, Obama is a Muslim (and a socialist) who was born in Kenya and seeks to destroy the US, Obama was planning a coup in Jade Helm, Democrats are running a child-trafficking ring out of a DC pizza restaurant, the UN’s Agenda 21 is an international conspiracy to increase urban density, climate change is a hoax, and on and on and on.

This is a very long essay that ends in despair — the writer asks, is there a solution?

The answer is … ha ha, jk

If you waded through all 7 million words of this post, you were probably hoping I’d finish with a solution, or at least some good suggestions. I am here to disappoint you.

This recalls the conclusion of Yuval Noah Harari’s review of THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION: Why We Never Think Alone, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, which I blogged about in this post. Perhaps there is no consensus reality, only allegiance to tribes, with self-serving notions about reality.

And to some degree, as I’ve maintained, it doesn’t matter; most humans get by and survive no matter what crazy things (superstitions, conspiracy theories, religious beliefs) they think are really true.

Or, perhaps the US is splintering into rival factions, as the SF author Marta Randall suggested in a recent Fb post:

There is a long and respected trope in science fiction speaking of a post- apocalyptic future in which the US no longer exists, and has been replaced by a number of semi-independent entities. In most of these stories the entities battle one another for scarce resources or maintain shaky alliances based on momentary advantages. We’ve all read these, or written these.

When I look at what this country has lurched through since January 20th, it comes to me that the transformation is already in progress, especially since Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Agreement and the response by individual states and municipalities to repudiate his repudiation and step forward on their own to support the Agreement. Regardless of what you may think of the Agreement itself, we are seeing a certain dis-uniting of the United States … The Balkanization of the country.

Maybe we are living in two disparate, overlapping countries, with truly different understandings of reality.

Actually, I do have suggestions for how not to become trapped inside a tribal bubble.

First — rely on news sources that existed before the internet. It’s the internet, and its ability to target communities of like-thinkers (on everything from politics to tastes in porn [Rule 34]) that has fragmented, or Balkanized, our culture.

Second — beware any news source that claims to stand up for a ‘truth’ that it claims is misrepresented by the so-called ‘mainstream’ media. Some of them may have a point, but many of them are in essence scams, playing to a base they know they can draw viewers, and make money, from.

Third — get out of the US bubble by checking news sites of other countries: BBC; Le Monde; Der Spiegel; Australia’s The Age. It’s fascinating to see how much they pay attention to US politics, and what they say. If you look at them and think they’re all part of a conspiracy to hide ‘the truth’, then the problem is probably yours.

\\

For example!

18 May: Vox, Alvin Chang: We tracked the Trump scandals on right-wing news sites. Here’s how they covered it. We’re experiencing these historical events very differently.

Posted in MInd, Politics | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Tribal Epistemology

Illusion and Reality: TOS #16: “The Menagerie, Part II”

In the second half of this two-part episode, revelations from an earlier Enterprise visit to Talos IV reveal why Spock has hijacked the Enterprise to take earlier Captain Pike, now crippled, back to that forbidden planet.

  • The second half of this episode is weighted toward the original Trek pilot, with less of the frame story. We begin with a long log entry by Kirk recounting the situation (for viewers who didn’t see the earlier show, in part). Note how Spock refers to the lead Talosian as the ‘Keeper’ though I never heard that term in the dialogue. (It recalls a ‘Keeper’ in Lost in Space, the year before, who also collected specimens of various species, including humans.) Instead, his fellow Talosians call him ‘magistrate’.
  • Pike makes a pointless and unnecessary reference to having come from the “other end of this galaxy.” The writers of the show were cavalier about the plausibility of distances traveled.
  • It’s fun how the Talosians anticipate Pike’s reactions as he realized he’s trapped in his cell. “Next, frustrated into a need to display physical prowess, the creature will throw himself against the transparency.” Pike hears this, pauses a moment, then does it anyway.
  • The first fantasy scene has Pike reappearing at the fortress on Rigel VII that the Enterprise just visited a couple weeks before. Vina is there, he realizes; why? It doesn’t matter, she assures him – everything he thinks is happening now will affect just as it did before. So Pike fights the barbarian ‘Kalar’ and kills him. We get a throbbing version of the iconic “Vina’s theme” as this scene opens, before fight music (with a thumping tuba) takes over.
  • So here’s the nub: Pike is given to understand scenes like this are illusions. In fact, he’s back in his cell. Is he really then, running around and potentially getting killed? Is this something like the holodeck in NextGen? No doubt others have thought about these things — there have been innumerable books written about the physics, philosophy, religion, etc., of Star Trek — but in this case I’ve never completely understood how this would work. Presumably Pike is lying in his cell, like a brain in a vat, and his potential for actually being killed, say, in such an illusion is directly related to whether he believes he is being killed.
  • Vina explains how difficult it is to resist their illusions, and how the Talosians, having destroyed their planet in an ancient war, took refuge in mental powers. Plaintively: “But they found… it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because, when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit… living and reliving other lives, left behind in the thought records.”
  • Thus we have the danger of contact with Talos IV, and the reason for the death penalty. (But not, yet, why Spock is taking Pike back there.)
  • Second illusion: picnic back home, a spacey city in the distance. Vina suggests that Pike can stay here, if he wants, forever. Pike resists; can’t they block the illusion control with emotion? Vina admits they can but, in tragic anguish: “But you can’t keep it up for long enough. I’ve tried! They keep at you, year after year, tricking and punishing. And they won. They own me.”
  • Third illusion: Vina as a green Orion slave girl, dancing lasciviously for Pike, who here owns some elaborate establishment, where he can afford to entertain a couple associates with such a dancer. Pike, realizing he’s being played, stomps out. Vina follows, alluringly…
  • This scene is interrupted by the Enterprise crew – or least two women of the landing party — managing to beam down into the Talosian facility. Vina, coming out of the illusion, cries, “No! Let me finish!”
  • The first time I saw the original pilot, “The Cage”, which had never been broadcast on TV, was at a special screening at UCLA, sometime between 1973 and 1977 when I attended there. It was a packed audience. This line got a big laugh.
  • There’s a scene in which the Talosian keeper, having clumsily opened a panel in Pike’s cell to place food inside, is captured by Pike, who tries strangling him. The keeper becomes an illusory monster—your standard issue sci-fi/horror movie monster. Trek, at least in its early years, was never above this.
  • The frame story has the ‘transmissions’ of these earlier events on Talos IV stop, mostly for the sake of a commercial break, and for a dramatic scene in which Commodore Mendez insists on a vote on the charges against Spock. They all, even Kirk, reluctantly, vote guilty.
  • But after the commercial break, the ‘transmissions’ resume, and we see the end story—why the Talosians wanted a human pair in the first place. To rebuild their planet. Pike and Vina are to lead “carefully guided lives”. But Number One resists, insisting that humans aren’t meant to become a slave race, and threatens to overload a phaser to explosion.
  • The Talosian Keeper realizes, finally, that humans aren’t suitable for their purpose. The Talosians realize that humans have a “unique hatred of captivity”, and that makes humans unsuitable for the Talosians’ purpose – to save their race by rebuilding their planet.
  • Pike has a lame line about not being apologized for his capture, as if it’s all about him.
  • The Keeper explains, humans were their last hope. “Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death. Is this not sufficient?”
  • “Your race would learn our power of illusion, and destroy itself, too”.
  • As Pike and party prepare to depart, Vina holds back—she can’t go with them. In an elaborate (for the time) special effects transition shot (which took several hours to shoot, via Cushman’s book), we see her beautiful form change by stages into a disfigured, old hag. She explains that as the sole survivor of the Earth ship that crashed here, she was found a dying lump of flesh; they had no guide for “putting her back together”. This is a striking way to explain why Vina can’t return with the Enterprise crew – but, the Talosians are seen as humanoid, what other guide did they need?? This has always struck me as an egregious flaw.
  • There’s a bit of a mismatch in what scenes mean, in the original story, and in that story reconstituted as a flashback. In the original story the Keeper advises that not only will Vina resume her “illusion of beauty”, but will have “more”… and we see a shot of Vina, climbing back up the rocks to the elevator down into the Talosian compound, along with an illusion of Pike –! But in the frame story of “The Menagerie”, this line is followed only by a lingering shot of Vina in her youthful beauty.
  • Because, in the end story of the frame story, Kirk dramatically realizes what this has all been about, why Spock has brought Pike back to this forbidden planet: because Pike, disabled and immobile in a kind of life-support wheelchair, has a chance to live an illusory life as a healthy young man – and to save the Talosian race! As the Talosians intended all along. And so the scene of Vina and Pike climbing up the rocks is shown after the wheelchair-bound Pike, asked if he wants to go there as the trial on the Enterprise ends, and answering ‘yes’ (one beep), has been beamed down.
  • We end with some fine lines, as the Keeper responds directly to Kirk: “Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.”
  • Yet, as fine and dramatic as these revelations and final scenes are, I am still bothered by the central premise. If the disabled Pike is to live a beautiful illusory life with a lovely Vina, how does that help the Talosians rebuild their planet and save their civilization?
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