Links and Comments: Conservative Authoritarianism, Mysticism, and Selective History

Right Wing Watch: Breitbart Editor: The Goal Is The ‘Full Destruction And Elimination Of The Entire Mainstream Media’

That is, an authoritarian, conservative government that determines the truth, and no one else is allowed to say respond or criticize, or point out evidence to the contrary. Nineteen Eighty-Four. (Except that it couldn’t work now, since the internet is beyond the control of … well, except authoritarian governments like North Korea. Hmm. Maybe it could happen.)

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Salon: How Breitbart media’s disinformation created the paranoid, fact-averse nation that elected Trump.

More about the Columbia Journalism Review study.

Breitbart not only led the right’s obsessive, hostile focus on immigrants, it was also the first to attack professional reporting such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Breitbart’s disruptive template fueled the political and information universe we now inhabit, where the right dismisses facts and embraces fantasies.

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Salon: Steve Bannon and the occult: The right wing’s long, strange love affair with New Age mysticism

There is a long-standing intersection between mysticism and conservatism in America. This marriage extends back to the late 19th century when globetrotting occultist and Russian noblewoman Madame H.P. Blavatsky depicted America as the catalyst for a revolution in human potential in her 1888 opus “The Secret Doctrine.” “It is in America that the transformation will take place,” Blavatsky wrote, “and has already silently commenced.”

This strikes me as an example of how humans more susceptible to the “I’m so very special, and the place I live in and the religion I believe in are obviously the mostest special things in the world” mental bias are, of course, conservatives, prone to dismissing real world evidence and attracted to anything that confirms their biases. And lacking any understanding of the actual, physical world, are prone to fairy-tales about how it might work, as long as it they confirm those biases.

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Thus, yet again, David Barton’s selective reading of history: David Barton Picks History He Likes and Omits the Rest.

Quoting lines from Thomas Jefferson out of context.

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Links and Comments: Science and Science Fiction

Harvard Business Review: Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction.

Science fiction can help. Maybe you associate it with spaceships and aliens, but science fiction offers more than escapism. By presenting plausible alternative realities, science fiction stories empower us to confront not just what we think but also how we think and why we think it. They reveal how fragile the status quo is, and how malleable the future can be.

Science fiction isn’t useful because it’s predictive. It’s useful because it reframes our perspective on the world. Like international travel or meditation, it creates space for us to question our assumptions. Assumptions locked top 19th-century minds into believing that cities were doomed to drown in horse manure. Assumptions toppled Kodak despite the fact that its engineers built the first digital camera in 1975. Assumptions are a luxury true leaders can’t afford.

With references to William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and others. This blog’s essential theme: science fiction is a way of thinking about reality, about identifying what exists outside the bubble of everything human.

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Guardian: Dawkins sees off Darwin in vote for most influential science book, subtitled, “A public poll to mark 30 years of the Royal Society book prizes sees The Selfish Gene declared the most significant – with women authors left on the margins”.

Interesting that Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene leads the list — ahead of any book by Darwin himself! Comments on the web about this poll suggest problems: it’s a ‘public poll’, popular vote, and therefore skewed most likely to what books the public has read, i.e. recently published books. Also, there was a predetermined shortlist for the public to vote on, apparently.

On the other hand, I’ve made the point before that old books, no matter how influential in their time, are not necessarily especially influential to readers now. No one reads Newton’s Principia these days for an understanding of physics; it’s an historical document. Similarly with Dawkins and Darwin — Darwin, for all the brilliance of his insight into natural selection, had no clue about genes, the very mechanism by which natural selection occurs, and the primary subject of Dawkins’ book.

I’m a bit curious about the inclusion of Bryson’s book, a good one, but more a popular summary by a non-scientist, than a science book. I do approve and endorse the books by Carl Sagan and David Deutsch.

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Curious Play

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (play).jpgOn Saturday we saw the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, on its US National Tour leg just ending here in San Francisco, with a different cast than the Broadway version, or any previous version, but using the same “production” (set design etc.) as the original 2012 Royal National Theatre version. It’s based of course on the celebrated 2003 short novel by Mark Haddon about a special-needs teenager in contemporary Britain (who is perhaps autistic though that term is never used in the novel, or the play) who sets out, to the consternation of his father, to investigate who killed a neighborhood dog that was stabbed to death with a pitchfork (thus the Sherlock Holmes title allusion). The story develops in surprising ways with great emotional payoffs.

The stage version employs a three-sided set of electronic display walls that variously illustrate scenes with graphics or images; the dramatization uses lighting and quick changes by the actors to juxtapose or overlap scenes from the book. Having reread the book recently, I would say that there is virtually nothing in the play that is not in the novel, though of course not every scene in the novel is captured in the play.

(I did notice that Christopher’s matter-of-fact statements about the non-existence of God — which have caused parents in some states to object to the book being taught in school — were not included in the play.)

The play even reproduces the novel’s appendix of Christopher’s proof of a math problem, in a sort of post-credits scene that is played after the cast has taken their bows and the audience has started to leave — a dazzling three-minute monologue with mathematical graphics, that keeps the audience sitting back down.

This story appeals to me mostly because it is about how differently perceptive human beings understand the world. The universe is not obviously objective. And because a few — not many, but a few — of Christopher’s characteristics resonate with me.

Wikipedia

Blog post about the book

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Mrs. McPherson’s Antidote to Despair

my husband is dead and it’s lonely now
     though still i enjoy the bright
sun in my morning kitchen where i
     sit and drink coffee and remember.
the kids are gone off with their own
     lives and don’t need me anymore
though once i thought i could still teach them
     a thing or two.
but now i’m only unfashionable, even embarrassing.
     people are so young now.
they are all so busy with things
     i don’t understand, the world
confusing and forgetting things that were important.
     my friends have all died or moved away.

 i wonder sometimes who would notice
if i were to vanish, how long
 it would take anyone to tell
the difference. we all sleep and eat
 and listen and watch and remember and
dream but only some of us make
 a difference to others. i don’t
think i make a difference. who will
 remember me when i’m gone? how long
will any of us be remembered? comfort
 can seem so fragile. i’m not so sure
of the things i believed when i was younger.
 when i die and have been gone ten
thousand years –! how could anything i’ve
 done made any difference?… ultimately
it is all pointless.

ah, but it can’t end now. or i’ll never find out
if mrs. hielmann’s daughter downstairs marries
that nice young man
                            of if the petunias i potted
come up next spring
                           or how my programs ever come out.

— 13 October 1980

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I didn’t write anguished poetry as a teenager, like most people do; I wrote anguished poetry in my 20s. I was a late-bloomer. I’ve been inventorying my file cabinets, the past couple days. I have piles of this stuff. After nearly 40 years, this one strikes me as not half bad. It makes a point. I’d been reading e.e. cummings.

I’m tickled by the line, “people are so young now”.

Also, WordPress doesn’t like blank spaces, or many returns; I had to manually insert nbsp and break characters, for this spacing.

Posted in Personal history, Writing | Comments Off on Mrs. McPherson’s Antidote to Despair

More from Cory Doctorow’s Locus Interview

While editing the ‘excerpts’ from Cory Doctorow’s long interview in the current issue of Locus Magazine, excerpts that I posted online on Sunday (here), I captured several other passages from that interview that particularly appeal to the themes of this blog.

Rebecca Solnit is this amazing historian, who wrote this book called A Paradise Built in Hell, which documents the distance between how we remember disasters and what happened in them. For historians, their gold standard is contemporaneous first-person accounts, what people present at the event said when it was happening. When you examine the contemporaneous first-person events from Katrina, the 1906 earthquake, the Haiti earthquake, and all these other disasters that are remembered as times where humanity displayed its least noble, most capricious, most violent and unhinged side, what you find is that people who were there really witnessed humanity at its finest. There was this enormous outpouring of kindness and selflessness, people rising to the occasion, against the backdrop of the certainty by the elites that the poors were coming to eat them.

This concerns the optimistic theme of his new novel Walkaway, about how people would react to a disaster. It challenges my PvC #9, that a worldwide catastrophe would reduce humanity to superstitious, primitive tribes — a conclusion based on numerous classics works of SF. Cory thinks that results is a cliche; I think it’s still likely in some circumstances. We’re at odds about matter of degree, I think.

And this:

What’s interesting for me about this, in the context of fiction, is that I understand why fiction writers follow disaster with catastrophe. In terms of plotting, there’s this amazing thing you get for free if the earthquake is followed by looting. But that creates what behavioral economists call the ‘availability heuristic.’ When you try to assess the probability of an event, the vividness with which you can picture it influences the probability you ascribe to it. We are habitually large overestimators of the likelihood of a child being abducted by a stranger, and massive catastrophic underestimators of the likelihood of a child dying in a car crash. Listeria kills more people than terrorism in America, but we do not have a trillion dollar war on poor refrigeration. That’s because it’s easy to picture a terrorist death, in part because we’ve seen it in the movies, and it’s hard to picture death from food poisoning, because it’s unglamorous, and it goes unreported and unremarked upon.

This is partly an incrimination of storytelling; how human nature wants there to be story in every understanding of the world, even though many things in the world are completely random. And partly about how journalism works, focusing on the exceptional negative, by definition, and how many people, no matter how much the world gets better by objective standards (as discussed in recent essays by Nicholas Kristof), think the world is still on the verge of anarchy because of the news story anecdotes they see nightly on TV… and drummed up by the conservatives, who play to such fears to win elections.

And:

When they say, ‘no one is ever the villain of their own story,’ that raises the question: how did they become the villains then? The answer is in large part about self-deception. That’s the other thing about Walkaway: the walkways are an offshoot of the current rationalist movement, people who are trying to operationalize behavioral economics, to identify and counter their own cognitive biases, and to understand that self-serving bullshit is the origin of all wickedness. They want to find a way call each other on that behavior, and call themselves on it without becoming dysfunctional, awful people who have no fun and spend all their time shouting ‘Strawman!’ and ‘Availability heuristic’ at each other. They want to retain the playfulness that makes the place they’ve gone to better than the place they came from.

There is no ‘good’ and ‘evil’. No one thinks they are doing evil; they think they are doing what must be done, usually for some greater (religious, ideological) cause. Cory has a nice insight here: it’s also about self-deception, i.e. another variety of human mental bias.

About Trump voters:

The reality is that within us we have a nature that is shortsighted, self-serving, wicked, and mean-spirited, and we have a nature that’s noble, kind, and clear-eyed. Those natures fight themselves within us. One of the things that holds our wicked nature in check is the idea that there are social consequences for letting it out. Maybe intellectually you know there are some things you shouldn’t say or do to people, but when you are really angry, it may not be the intellectual part of you that stops you from doing that. It may be that same emotional factor, and the belief that if I give public vent to this dark nature of mine, I will face a social consequence that is real and pervasive. So when Trump gets elected, and we see a rise in hate crimes, it’s not because all of the sudden there are lots more haters. It’s because the social cost of doing otherwise unthinkable things was dramatically lowered. Suddenly that was an acceptable thing.

This echoes E.O. Wilson’s distinction between individual and group selection (e.g. quoted here); “Individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue.”

And it’s the Overton Window. Whether or not Obama was smart enough to anticipate it, once he introduced expanded health coverage, it became the new normal for tens of thousands of people, and it’s difficult and perhaps impossible for the other party to now roll it back. At best they can tweak it. As we are seeing happening now. But it can never go back to pre-Obamacare.

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Culture, Psychology, Species Reset | Comments Off on More from Cory Doctorow’s Locus Interview

George Lakoff on the Conservative Moral Hierarchy

Retired UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff answers Two Questions About Trump and Republicans that Stump Progressives, a piece that has gotten some circulation the past couple weeks.

The questions are:

1) Why don’t Trump supporters turn against Trump even though he is doing things that hurt them? (like taking away their healthcare)

2) Why do Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act, and why are they so transparently acting to give wealthy people a tax break by making healthcare unaffordable?

Here is the short answer: All politics is moral.

Because Trump supporters feel he is on their side, even if they personally might be disadvantaged.

Lakoff’s piece is long, and goes into brain science, and it ends with a crisp summary of what he calls “The Conservative Moral Hierarchy”:

    • God above Man
    • Man above Nature
    • The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak)
    • The Rich above the Poor
    • Employers above Employees
    • Adults above Children
    • Western culture above other cultures
    • America above other countries
    • Men above Women
    • Whites above Nonwhites
    • Christians above non-Christians
    • Straights above Gays

His analysis aligns with Jonathan Haidt’s more abstract analysis of how moral values depends on six moral “foundations” (see my discussion here), but Lakoff identifies the implications of one range of these foundations into how it plays out in contemporary American politics.

(And, let’s see, how many items in that hierarchy could I argue with or do not believe in? Maybe all but one.)

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Links and Comments: Science v Stories; Religion, Conservative Resistance, and Reality; a Freeway

Science Fiction, Science, and Storytelling

Tor.com: Nancy Kress: Science and Science Fiction: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Many, many more people see science fiction movies than read print SF.

Almost all SF movies, and much print SF as well, depicts science that is misleading at best, harmful at worst.

The misleading first. Whenever I have taught science fiction as literature, I have had students who believed the following…

She goes on with examples about clones, alien contact, settling other planets, and black holes. And how “Writers and scriptwriters often make science itself the villain.” (She doesn’t mention Michael Crichton, but he made a career off that theme.)

My take: this is because the protocols of storytelling — conflict, a threat that must be vanquished — are fundamentally at odds with the goals and conclusions of science. Human culture, politics, and especially religion are all powered by stories, that satisfy psychological needs, while science tries to identify the reality that exists aside from human psychological needs. Yet there are SF stories (even a few films) that manage to satisfy science and psychology. (That’s what my book will be about.)

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Religion

The Secular Web, essay by Matthew Wade Ferguson, Griffin Beak, Mermaid Fin, and Dragon Blood Stew, about what could possibly be considered sufficient evidence for believing in, for example, the resurrection of Jesus. With the Bayesian thinking.

Vox, Sean Illing: Can we be religious without God? Alain de Botton on “atheism 2.0.”.

Subtitle: “Why ‘is God real?’ is the most boring question you can ask.”

Because it’s not really about metaphysical truths; it’s about shared myths that bind together communities and tribes, especially in spite of outsiders (intellectuals, the elites) who try to tell you different.

Religions are not just a set of claims about the supernatural; they are also machines for living. They aim to guide you from birth to death and to teach you a whole range of things: to create a community, to create codes of behavior, to generate aesthetic experiences. And all of this seems to me incredibly important and, frankly, much more interesting than the question of whether Jesus was or wasn’t the son of God.

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Anti-Intellectualism; Conservative Resistence

Not unrelated to the previous items:

Salon: America hits peak anti-intellectualism: Majority of Republicans now think college is bad
Patheos.com: A Majority of Republicans Think Higher Education is Bad for the Country

Because education dispells the myths and narratives that conservatives live by, especially religious conservatives; myths and narratives that by definition are known to be true and cannot be affected by evidence.

The best colleges teach students to think critically and ask tough questions. They bring together a diverse student body to offer different perspectives. They make it difficult for anyone to remain in an ideological bubble. Sure, there are exceptions to all of that — we often hear examples of liberal students refusing to listen to (and/or outright boycotting or disrupting) conservative speakers — but those are the ideals.

No wonder today’s Republicans don’t like that. They thrive on misinformation, isolation, and Jesus. They can’t handle facts and assume reality is a conspiracy theory. They dislike colleges for the same reason evangelical Christians dislike public schools — they fear exposure to people whose values differ from their own because they know they’ll always lose a battle of ideas. It’s easier to demonize the other side and create a bubble of their own.

Hmm, “Evangelical Christians dislike public schools — they fear exposure to people whose values differ from their own because they know they’ll always lose a battle of ideas.” Thus home-schooling, I imagine.

And how tribalism and allegiance to one’s ideological tribe trumps acknowledgement of reality.

Vox, Brian Resnick: Trump supporters know Trump lies. They just don’t care.

The backfire effect, yes; but also reluctance. With examples of things Trump has said that aren’t true. “Facts sink in. But they don’t matter. Let that sink in.”

My take: another example of how the human mind, and human nature, isn’t optimized to seek out truth, or reality: it’s about aligning with others in one’s community or tribe.

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Personal History

On a completely different matter, the San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial last Sunday called High Desert Corridor project could transform California.

This is striking because I just mentioned in my Trip Report: Apple Valley 2017 a week ago that there had been talk for decades about building a freeway to connect Highway 14 in Palmdale to Interstate 15 at Victorville. Apparently they’re still talking about it!

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Personal history, Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Science v Stories; Religion, Conservative Resistance, and Reality; a Freeway

Apple Valley Dreams

From the northeast corner of Apple Valley — where the first, now disappeared, Apple Valley house where my family lived, was — you get views to the south and southwest of the hills and mountains, during the day and at night. And the occasional desert storms.

These are from real estate photos on Zillow.com for 17358 Candlewood Rd.

This area seems relatively upscale — large, newer homes, an area called Sycamore Rocks, with its own elementary school, just within the Apple Valley Town borders. For $300K or $400K one could buy a very nice home.

Just a dream.

Everyone is deeply drawn to their childhood homes, I suppose.

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Trip Report: Apple Valley 2017

Since I finished a couple posts of photos and commentary (e.g. http://www.markrkelly.com/Blog/photos/first-apple-valley-house/) about the house in Apple Valley, California, where my family lived when I was three or four years old, I’ve been gathering photos of the second Apple Valley house we lived in when I was in kindergarten and 1st grade, a house which remained in the family, so to speak, until the mid-1980s. I’ve been reading my old personal journals about the times spent at that house. I mentioned a couple trips I took, in 2009 and 2011, to revisit the area. But on the last trip in 2011, I supposed that there would never be another reason, perhaps not even an opportunity, to visit the area ever again.

But last week I had a sudden reason for a quick drive to LA for a Thursday afternoon appointment, a one-night stay-over, and a drive home on Friday. So on the return trip, I took a long detour in part to revisit the area one more time — and to perhaps confirm my deductions about the likely location of the first Apple Valley house. I hit a couple other spots as well:

First, Vasquez Rocks. For all the decades that I lived in southern California, for all that Vasquez Rocks were famous as being the backdrop to two or three Star Trek episodes and many other films, TV episodes, and TV commercials, for all that, I never actually visited the park to see the rocks up close. They’re visible from the 14 freeway, of course, so I knew exactly where they were. But every time I traveled through the area from LA out to the desert, it was either on the 14 freeway, or through Soledad Canyon (all my bike rides) paralleling the freeway to the south, or, rarely, along Sierra Highway that parallels the freeway along the north. (Before the 14 freeway was built 1963-1965, Sierra Highway was the main route through those hills.)

Clear sunny morning, 9am. Only a handful of vehicles there. Down a dirt road, leading past a small visitor center that looked closed, then to one large parking area, then beyond, through the rocks, to a larger parking area below.

I got out and breathed the air and took a couple photos. The area is actually larger than I might have thought, with three or four distinct hills of angled sandstone slabs, and large enough that I could not tell exactly which one was used in the various scenes of those Trek episodes. I did not climb on any of the rocks. (There was a group of climbers a couple ridges away.) I was there only a few minutes, then got back in my car, drove slowly out the dirt road, and back along the highway to the freeway.

Second, Pearblossom Highway to Victorville. On my two relatively recent trips to Apple Valley, in 2009 and 2011, I don’t think I took the direct route, the one we always took driving on those family weekends in the ’60s, in either direction on either trip. Partly yes. This time I took it all the way across, noting that the westernmost sections, between the ‘Four Corners’ junction and first Little Rock and then Pearblossom, were divided highways, two lanes in each direction, shrinking to ordinary streets only through each town. Past Pearblossom the divided highway ran out, the road reduced to its original two-lane highway as it headed eastward across the desert. Most of the severe ‘dips’ in the original highway – where the road crossed dry stream beds running northward off the San Gabriel foothills to the south – have long since been filled in and leveled out. Years ago there was speculation about building a true freeway across this stretch of desert, connecting State Highway 14 near Palmdale to Interstate 15 near Cajon Pass, but that has never happened.

Third, the Area of the 1st Apple Valley house. I wasted a bit of time exploring the lake southeast of Victorville that I could see on Google Maps but didn’t recall from living there in the ‘60s or any later visits in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s called Spring Valley Lake and is the centerpiece of a large subdivision of houses built in the ‘90s and 2000s (judging from browsing sample properties on Zillow.com), with marinas housing small boats. The houses seem upscale though are of generic style, and could be anywhere in the US; given the area, they’re inexpensive for their sizes, with prices running from under $300K to $800K right on the lake. (Curiously, the subdivision seems to be neither within the city limits of Victorville, nor Apple Valley, according to Google Maps.)

Just north of this lake, but still below the Ridge separating Victorville from Apple Valley, is an undeveloped area called Mojave Narrows Regional Park, with another lake of sorts. Years ago as a child my father took me a fish hatchery there. There doesn’t seem to be such a thing anymore. Despite the maps, there’s no road through the park from Yates Rd up to Highway 18, according to the ranger. I did not linger.

Instead, I took the opportunity to follow up on my speculation about the location of the first Apple Valley house. I drove out to that northeast corner of the valley, and then went slowly up and down those roads – Century Plant, Candlewood, Joshua – looking for any structure that could be imagined to match, even after remodels, the cinderblock house from my family photos. And saw nothing. However, I did get the impression that the two water tanks (now painted brown) on the nearby hill were much too close from those streets compared to their apparent distance in that backyard photo with my father and the dog…

This morning, using Google Maps street view again, and considering that the house faced away from the hills, I now conclude the house most likely faced Mesquite Road, a couple roads west of those others, about half-way up that block, say around 17105. From there, using Google Street View, the view to the east shows the two ridges overlapping in just the same way they do in the backyard photo.

What would the house to the west be, the one I thought might be on Century Plant Rd? Well, possibly the place at 17096 Ocotilla Rd, to the west, a house built in 1951. So it would have been there. So would 17243 Sycamore Lane, built in 1951, a bit farther north and on the line of site to Bell Mountain, in that same photograph.

But there’s no way to be sure, and it doesn’t really matter. You can’t go home again. But I’ll need to update that photos page, with latest conclusions of the likely location of that house.

Fourth, around Bell Mountain. I’ll post just one photo of Bell Mountain, one I took that morning from the end of Winnebago Avenue, just north of the first house — an iconic symmetric bell curve profile. The irony is that from other angles it is not so pretty, and there is apt metaphor in how Bell Mountain looked from the house where I grew up and visited often in the mid 1960s, and how I later discovered the mountain to appear from other directions. So on this trip, from the previous stop, I drove north to Quarry Road, then west to Stoddard Wells road, which goes around the back of Bell Mountain, and took a couple photos from there. I’ll post those when I’m ready for a full discussion of those later years in Apple Valley.

Finally the long drive home. I took I15 north to Barstow, then Highway 58 west across the desert, through Kramer Junction, past Boron with its borax-mining operation to the south, past turn-offs to Edwards Air Force Base. Then through Mojave, deciding to delay a lunch stop until I needed gas, and continuing on Highway 58 up into the hills, past the windmill farm, through Tehachapi, and down into the Central Valley to Bakersfield. Then north, to Oakland, with a fair amount of pre-July 4th weekend traffic.

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You Mean Yet!: TOS #21: “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”

The Enterprise accidentally travels back in time to Earth in the 1960s, where it’s seen as a UFO, and then struggles to erase records of its visit and to return to its own time.

  • This is a fun episode that doesn’t bear close examination of its plot points or theoretical basis.
  • The episode opens, as “The Conscience of the King” did, with a brief scene without reference to the Enterprise – in this case, a contemporary US Air Force base reacting to the appearance of a UFO, and scrambling a jet to approach it. (No date is mentioned, but it’s presumed it’s contemporaneous with the viewer’s present, in early 1967.)
  • And then it’s quite striking to see that the UFO is – the Enterprise! One of the best episode teasers ever.
  • Despite Memory Alpha (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Tomorrow_is_Yesterday_(episode)), Kirk does *not* say ‘subjective time’ in his log entries. After all, in the first one, he doesn’t yet realize the ship has been thrown back in time. It does however raise the question of what ‘stardate’ actually means, but this is a topic that, though raised many times, has no satisfactory resolution.
  • There are two areas of mind-boggling coincidence in this story. The first is the sheer physical exactitude with which the Enterprise, having encountered a “black star” and then been thrown some light-years, presumably, off its course, should happen to land *just within the extremely thin atmosphere* of Earth – not smashing into the planet, not arriving at some random point in space billions of miles away – and furthermore, not still moving at some great speed — but rather, as we see, limping slowly upward into Earth’s sky. (The image above is from the original show; the enhanced graphics on the currently available Blu-Ray discs greatly improve the images of the Enterprise among the clouds.) And over the US, another coincidence!
  • Later, at the end of the episode, similar miraculous exactitudes are achieved when the Enterprise, having slung-shot around the sun to accelerate and reproduce the time effect (though for some reason this time in the other direction, toward the future), passes quickly by the Earth and while doing so manages to time the beaming down of both its accidental tourists from this era who’ve managed to get aboard the Enterprise—to exactly the spots, or close enough, from where they were first beamed up. And via a chain of vocal commands! To achieve such precision is, to put it mildly, amazing.
  • A nit: Captain Christopher is beamed out of his jet in flight position, yet appears on the transporter pad standing up.
  • Christopher, 1960s US Air Force pilot, is appropriately amazed by appearing aboard the Enterprise, as he gradually gathers what kind of ship it is. Cushman suggests this is part of the charm of this episode – it visualizes a viewer fantasy for a contemporary person to actually *be* on the Enterprise. A female crewman? Wow. Kirk mentions that there are only 12 like this ship in the fleet. It was an accident that the Enterprise is here; Christopher replies, “You seem to have a lot of them,” referring to the prevalent speculations about UFOs at the time.
  • Spock quickly realizes the consequences of Kirk’s rather rash decision to beam Christopher aboard: now that Christopher has seen the future, he cannot be returned to Earth of this time, lest he use that knowledge to make certain speculations that might change history – and wipe the Enterprise and all aboard out of existence, like a soap bubble. There are of course many, many theories of time travel among science fiction stories, of which Spock’s worry is a common one, but far from the only one; there are many other possibilities. (Examples: the past is fixed and cannot be changed, so that Christopher’s efforts were he returned would have no effect; or, the past might be changed and branch a separate timeline.)
  • This episode features a gratuitous humor element that I’ve never cozied to: the computer Kirk speaks to replies in a sultry, female voice, and calls him “dear”. Cpt. Christopher, hearing this in Kirk’s cabin, observes how people of his era have such interesting problems. Spock drolly explains that the computer system was programmed by the female society on Cygnet XIV, which gave it, of course, a female personality. And that to fix it would require a complete three-week overhaul at a starbase. But really: three weeks?? Whereas now we can change the voice option on our phone or in our car with a few swipes, in a few seconds. Failure of imagination.
  • Anyway, the voice is sexist. But fans at the time – and the producers, and NBC – loved it.
  • Act 1 ends as Scotty repairs the engines, but observes: “We have no place to go in this time!”. A startling observation, but… how could this be true? Did the entire Federation of Planets, as we later understand it, arise only because *Earth* emerged into the galaxy? Weren’t there other races who’d developed space flight and colonized other worlds before humans, whom the Enterprise might have sought out in Earth’s 1960s? Surely one would think so, but Trek producers and writers never thought very deeply in these directions, or avoiding doing so to not complicate scripts.
  • In a sloppy bit of plotting, as in “The Alternative Factor”, Cpt. Christopher is allowed to wander around the Enterprise decks on his own. Allowing him to knock out a crewman, steal his phaser, and use it to try ordering the transporter room guy to beam him down. Kirk shows up to belt him.
  • Leading to the scene in which Spock reveals that Captain Christopher’s *son* — not yet born! – will have an effect on history, heading the first successful Earth-Saturn probe. Christopher says he doesn’t have a son. McCoy, with a twinkle in his eye, says “You mean yet!” And Christopher realizes what this means. “I’m going to have a son…!” It’s a legitimately charming moment.
  • Then we have Kirk and Sulu beaming down to the base to try to retrieve whatever camera recordings and other data that would leave evidence of the Enterprise’s visit. It’s always struck me as amazingly coincidental that, by opening up a computer unit with tape reels, they can identify which reels contain evidence of their visit; and a bit later, find the photographic evidence too, so easily.
  • This episode is regarded as the first deliberately semi-comedic episode – the result of D.C. Fontana’s script. The next scene (after the female computer voice) that displays this is Kirk’s being captured and playing dumb. “I popped in out of thin air.” He’ll be locked up for 200 years. “That ought to be just about right.”
  • The episode’s endgame has the Enterprise trying to recreate the slingshot/time travel effect by swinging around Earth’s sun (though, as above, they think it will throw them forward in time, not back). In the original episode, there were no special effects to support this – we never saw the sun itself, just the Enterprise jiggling in space. The enhanced graphics for this episode does show the sun, and in fact shows the Enterprise banking closely around the sun – but in a nonsensical way that echoes the way the Enterprise has always been shown to ‘bank’ around planets it orbits – visibly arcing, and banking like a jet fighter would do in an atmosphere.
  • A recurrent Trek bad physics theme: “Since we passed Mercury… the sun’s pull has increased on us greatly.” No. The Enterprise is flying though space; the “sun’s pull” is only a matter of being in orbit, or doing a flyby; it’s a matter of the trajectory the Enterprise will take around the sun. It’s not a matter of the sun *pulling* on the Enterprise, as if it were an object not moving relative to the sun.
  • Anyway, this sun flyby works, as the Enterprise accelerates through the warp drive, and then passes Earth and achieves those amazing precise beam downs….
  • The Enterprise “passed Pluto”. Well, no; this presumes that the planets around our sun are somehow lined up, so that the Enterprise entering the solar system, or leaving it, would pass by the planets in order. While of course, at any given moment, the planets are in their orbits but scattered around the sun in their orbital arcs. Would have been better to say, “passed Pluto’s orbit.”
  • Of course, the Enterprise might well have been heading somewhere in the galaxy not along the Sun’s ecliptic; that is, at some acute or right angle to the plane of the planets. So ‘passing Pluto’ or ‘passing Pluto’s orbit’ would be an academic point, since the ship might well be headed in some relatively perpendicular direction. Trek routinely assumed – to the point of visualizing the Enterprise’s encounter with other spaceships, and the way it departed planets at the end of episodes – that the galaxy lay in some flat plane. Yet even the Milky Way galaxy’s plane doesn’t match the solar system’s. A prominent Trek example of how complicated physics and astrophysics is simplified for intuitive, non-scientific viewers.
  • And finally, the story ends as the Enterprise winds down its warp-drive thrust into the future… and gets voice confirmation from Starfleet that they are back in their age. Really? Exactly back in their age? The exact time they left from, before encountering that ‘black star’? Don’t ask.
  • Again, a fun episode that does not bear too close examination.
  • Music notes: the whirling music as the Bluejay 4 pursues the Enterprise is the ‘spinning cube’ music from The Corbomite Maneuver; and in the next scene, Cpt. Christopher’s view of the Enterprise is underscored with the ‘Fesarius’ theme from that same episode score.
  • The music as Kirk and Sulu slowly wander the hallways of the air force base is the slow, creepy version of the main Mudd’s women theme. We hear the “Shore Leave” bunny music as a wandering security policeman is beamed up.
  • The fight in the photo lab is scored with Finnegan’s fight theme from “Shore Leave”.
  • When the security policeman gets his chicken soup in the transporter room, we hear a version of the “Shore Leave” theme; the following scene, back at the base, opens with Courage’s “No Man” theme.
  • (These posts are all drafts and will be later edited to knit them together with the big post about 1st season Trek music.)
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