11 November 2010

Inter armas silent leges

A few days ago I finished China Mieville's The City & The City, which (briefly) is about two cities - Beszel and Ul Qoma - that occupy the same physical space but whose citizens occupy totally separate mental spaces. It's an extreme version of the reality people in the world deal with every day and I was reminded of it when reading this entry at the website.

In essence, the author (Chase Madar) argues that Guantanamo is not an aberration in the current American prison system:

"Prosecuting a 15-year-old for `murder' with the help of a little torture and some threats of rape may not be the kind of thing we want to show German journalists. They’ll just get upset. They lack the context. But we Americans really have no right to claim that we’re shocked, shocked. We got used to this kind of thing a long time ago. The prosecution of former child soldier Omar Khadr has been nothing, in other words, if not all-American."

It's a form of the same "unseeing" that Beszel's and Ul Qoma's citizens practice every day.

Happy Armistice Day 2010

Happy Armistice Day!

I remain "old school" when it comes to remembering the past. Instead of celebrating state-sanctioned killers we should be celebrating the restoration of peace (a semblance at any rate - the years between 1918 and 1939 were far from peaceful for far too many people).

It's tragic but not unexpected that on this day we learn that the deadline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq has been extended to 2014.

Vae victis and sieg heil, comrades!

"It is right that the murder of many people
be mourned and lamented.
It is right that a victor in war
be received with funeral ceremonies." (Tao te ching, Ursula Le Guin, translator)

03 November 2010

Sarah Palin 2012 - How Did The Mayans Know?

I take today's post title from a sign reportedly seen at Jon Stewart's Restore Sanity rally.

Well, it's November 3 and as the dust from yesterday's elections settles it becomes apparent that the Republicans didn't enjoy the utter blowout one might gather they had from the more hysterical headlines but the Democrats were handed their asses in too many contests that should have been theirs.

But not in California, happily. We went Democratic in a big way; most of the returns I looked at were decided by margins of 10% or more. The propositions were more uneven - glimmers of electorate intelligence shone only to be extinguished on the next vote.

Governor - Jerry Brown - Could be worse; we could be saying "Gov. Whitman"
Lt. Governor - Gavin Newsom
Secretary of State - Debra Bowen
Controller - John Chiang
Treasurer - Bill Lockyer
Attorney General - Kamala Harris? - I checked on the state's website and this was the only race that was in any way close. Harris has approx. 46% to Cooley's 45%, with 96%+ of the counties in so it's conceivable that the percentages could flip.
Insurance Commissioner - Dave Jones
US Senator - Barbara Boxer
US Representative - Judy Chu
Superintendent of Public Instruction - Tom Torlakson

The Propositions:
19 - No: Well, maybe next time. It was close.
20 - Yes
21 - No
22- Yes
23 - No
24 - No
25 - Yes: I'm a bit surprised that this one was passed (it requires a simple majority to pass a budget) but happy it did. Of course, this glimmer of intelligence was quickly extinguished by the results of the next proposition, 26.
26 - No
27 - No

Nationwide, we appear to have avoided the worst of the Tea Parties' candidates - no O'Donnell, no Miller, no Paladino - but we have a House led by a man who promises to turn back the anemic healthcare and banking reforms that Obama and the Democrats managed to get through, and a leadership dedicated to "investigating" the administration's numerous "crimes and misdemeanors."

Its going to be a brutal two years.

24 October 2010

Election 2010 Ballot Recommendations (Part 2)

I'm back from the bike ride: Beautiful late Fall So Calif weather - not too hot, not too cold, moderate cloud cover. Now for the propositions:

19 - Legalizes marijuana under CA law. - Yes
20 - Redistricting of Congressional districts. - Yes (probably)

This initiative had me sitting on the fence for a while. I voted NO on the measure a few election cycles ago that created the commission to redraw the state districts not because I'm enamored of the current, legislation-dominated system but because I don't trust Schwarzenegger (who sponsored it). This prop expands that commission's duties to include federal districts. In for a penny, in for a pound, however. I could be pleasantly surprised by the commission's results and we might as well try to make all our legislative districts, state and national, more balanced and competitive.

I'm troubled, however, by a concurrent proposition passed last cycle that mandates open primaries where the top two vote getters will be the only candidates on future ballots. This is the kind of measure that gives ammo to the modern-day Burke who sees only gloom and doom in the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi. What's the point of competitive districts if the primary campaign sticks two Republicans (or two Democrats or, one could hope, two Greens) in the top slots?

One can hope that a disastrous election cycle will prompt an initiative repealing it.

21 - $18 surcharge on vehicle licensing to fund state parks/wildlife programs - Yes
22 - Prohibits state from borrowing or taxing funds used for transportation projects, etc. - No

Yet another bar to any hope (however faint) of rationally allocating state/local funds.

23 - Suspends implementation of air pollution control law - No

I'll repeat myself - NO. This is a God-awful, short-sighted, oil-industry-sponsored menace not just to the California economy but to the entire frakking world.

24 - Repeals legislation allowing businesses to lower tax liabilities - Yes

We're $50 billion in debt, it's not like we need an incentive to dig the hole any deeper.

25 - Changes voting requirement to pass budget to a simple majority - Yes
26 - Requires certain state/local fees be approved by 2/3rd majority vote - No
27 - Eliminates state commission on redistricting - No

Election 2010 Ballot Recommendations

This is, of course, exclusive to California, though if anyone outside of the Golden State is reading this, I'd say - in general - avoid the Tea Party candidate and anything supported by the Chamber of Commerce.

State Races:
Governor - Laura Wells (Green).

The mainstream options are between Meg Whitman (R), a millionaire whose prescription for California's woes is to turn it into a corporation-friendly, regulation-hostile free-for-all zone, and Jerry Brown (D), who was governor 30 years ago. Of the two, a second Brown administration would be better than a first Whitman but I think it's symptomatic of the state's sclerotic Democratic Party that the only viable candidate they can find is a pol from the '70s.

It's heartening that despite spending over $100 million (reportedly) of her own money on this campaign, Whitman still trails Brown, who's been outspent 86 to 1 (as of August, I doubt the ratio has changed all that much). There may be hope for the electorate after all.

Lieutenant Governor - Gavin Newsom (D).

I was sorely disappointed when Newsom withdrew from the gubernatorial race but the Lt. Gov is a fairly powerful position under CA's constitution so I'm happy there's a potential he can bring his populist, progressive agenda to a statewide venue.

Secretary of State - Debra Bowen (D).

I still think Bowen is doing a good job.

Controller - John Chiang (D).

The same goes for Chiang, if only because he's fighting Schwarzenegger and the Republicans at every turn.

Treasurer - Charles Crittenden (Green).

The odds of Mr. Crittenden becoming our Treasurer say the least but the Republican, Libertarian and American Independent candidates would be disasters and the Democratic nod, Bill Lockyer, is another long-time insider who is (in my mind) too tainted with corporate and development-industry ties.

Attorney General - Kamala Harris (D).

I've heard/read good things about Ms. Harris and if my vote can help keep Steve Cooley (R) out of the office, then she has it.

Insurance Commissioner - William Balderston (Green).

Not much to say about this position. I'm sure the Democratic candidate, Dave Jones, would do fine but I want to help keep a third-party option alive in the state so I'm going with the Green candidate. (Besides, he looks too much like the office manager of the company - which shall remain as nameless as Voldemort - that I work for.)

Senator (US) - Duane Roberts (Green).

Carly Fiorina (R) - the woman who ran HP into the ground and had to be bribed into leaving the company. Yes, this is just what California needs. Barbara Boxer (D) is a decent enough senator and I won't be disappointed if (when, finger's crossed) she wins but she's too tied up with corporate/business interests to be really effective at changing the way things are done. At most she's holding the line but won't fundamentally reorient the system.

Superintendent of Public Instruction - Tom Torlakson (nonpartisan).

I like the cut of his jib.

The other state offices are district specific and unless you live near me would be of even less interest. But here they are:

State Board of Equalization - Jerome Horton (D).
US Representative (32nd) - Judy Chu (D). (I'd go Green but they didn't put up a candidate.)
State Senator (24th) - Ed Hernandez (D). (I have no choice - unless I wanted to leave it blank - he's running unopposed.)
State Assembly (57th) - Roger Hernandez (D). (No relation to Ed, I think.) (Again, I'd go Green but his only opponent is a Republican.)
County Assessor (LA) - John Wong (nonpartisan). (His opponent still thinks 1978's Prop 13 was a good idea.)

Regarding the judicial elections (which are nonpartisan, yes-or-no votes for a name unfamiliar to anyone who hasn't been before their bench or are family members), I direct you to this website: Judge Voter Guide, which is put together by a conservative, Republican-leaning industrious blogger with a lot of time on his hands. NB - VOTE OPPOSITE TO WHAT HE RECOMMENDS. If he's against a judge, then I'm for them.

I'm going to save the ballot measures for a second post later today. Right now (Sunday, Oct 24, 10:32 am), I have to give my cat his thyroid medicine and get my daily bike ride in.

07 September 2010

Best Friend & Offspring Win Wii Games

Some good news - My best friend from childhood, Doug Hutchison (not the actor), and his son, Connor, have won the Adult-Child category at the Nintendo Wii Games held in Redondo Beach this weekend (Labor Day).

Haven't heard about it? Not surprising. Nintendo has kept it on the down low. My friend learned about the regional competitions from an e-mail sent to his son a few days before they were held. Despite the last minute nature of the whole affair, they entered, won the regional, and were hosted by Nintendo at the national competition held in Redondo.

I met them this Saturday when they won the first place slot in the semi-finals. If we had been more foresightful, I would have met them on Sunday - If they had lost Saturday, we could have bummed around LA; otherwise, I could have been there for the ultimate triumph. But ce la vie...

What really annoyed me, however, was that I forgot the camera.... I was hoping to take some pictures that didn't feature my cats :-)

At any rate, this is the link to the only news story I could find when googling the event.

"All I Need to Know About Islam..."

I don't claim to know a great deal about Islam. I've taken courses in college, I've read books, and (though this sounds as patronizing as "some of my best friends are black") I know a few personally.

What I don't know would fill a library. But I know enough to grasp that the actions of a few are the fruits of the same poison tree that nourishes fanatics of all stripes - from atheistic Bolsheviks who could only see Kulaks as obstacles in the way of the proletarian revolution, to Christians who blow up federal buildings and murder doctors providing abortions, to Muslims who allow girls to die horribly in a fire because they didn't have time to put on their "sacred" burkas, and the list of atrocities could go on and on and encompass every identifiable group of humans since recorded history began.

I was motivated to pen this blog because of two things I saw in the media recently. The first is this blog from the site, "When Stupid People don’t Know that They are Stupid: Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally and the Dunning-Kruger Effect", by Chauncey de Vega. What particularly caught my ear was the comment by one of the interviewed that supplied the title of this post - "All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11."

The second is this news article on the San Francisco Chronicle site, "For US Muslims, a 9/11 anniversary like no other", the gist of which is that Muslim communities feel so threatened by anti-Muslim hysteria that they are going to great lengths to advertise their peaceful and charitable activities.

08 August 2010

The Alternate Alternate Star Trek Timeline

Way back in 2008, I posted my version of Star Trek's future history. It was unsatisfying (to me, at any rate), and under the impulse of my recent reacquaintance with things Star Trek, I revisited and extensively revised my history.

As before, I make no apologies for stealing ideas that I liked from the canon and elsewhere to incorporate in my vision.

[All dates are based on the Common Era dating of Earth]

Some terms defined:
The Primary Volume: This is the name for the region of space centered around the Founding Worlds of the Federation. Vaguely defined, its primary characteristic is that most intelligent species within its ambit are descendants of the hominids seeded by the hani over a period of 2 million E-years.

Ascendant Races: The Ascendants are a group of races that have transcended a purely material existence and no longer have any or much interaction with less evolved races. The number and nature of most Ascendants is unknown but a few that continue to interact with the galaxy at large include:

• Organians: The Organians would like to have no interaction with the galaxy but the Federation and Klingon Empire made that impossible in AD 2205. However, since they stopped enforcing the Organian Treaty in 2230, they have remained aloof from others’ affairs.

• Metrons: Outside of their interference during the Federation’s first encounter with the Gorn, the Metrons have refrained from further contact.

• Thasians

• The Continuum: Most recently, the Continuum has made itself known in the entity Q but the creature Trelayne, encountered by Enterprise, may have been a member of this group.

• Bajoran Prophets

• Adonais’ race: Encountered by Enterprise under James Kirk, Apollo/Adonais was the last of his species to maintain a physical existence. Since his transcendance, no other contact has been recorded with any other member his race.

• hani: The species that seeded Earth hominids across the Primary Volume beginning c. 2mya. The Hainim maintain a tradition that the original motive was imperialistic – the hani desired to dominate the galaxy – and that eventually they were defeated by a coalition of other races in a war that nearly destroyed contemporary galactic culture.

Forerunner Races: The Forerunners are a group of mostly extinct races that never achieved Ascendance (at least as a species) but did achieve space-faring civilizations prior to the current civilizations.

• Krell: Capable of star travel, the Krell (apparently) were never colonizers, though they did explore nearby space. Their crowning achievement was the creation of a civilization without instrumentation. Unfortunately, their homeworld was destroyed by a runaway chain reaction of the planet’s energy-production systems in AD 2130.

• Tkonians: Masters of an extensive and militaristic empire (at least by tradition), the Tkonians may have been the leaders in the coalition that brought down the hani.

• Ikonians: The Ikonians (aka the qhalur) mastered an alternative method of space travel: Gates that crossed space-time. Gate-connected systems encompass an enormous volume that probably far exceeds the present boundaries of explored space. There is evidence that a future has sent a team into the Gates to shut them down as they represent a substantial danger to the fundamental space-time continuum: Three hundred thousand years ago, when someone went back in time and changed things, the resulting “timequake” devastated Ikonia and every other Gate-connected world.

• Preservers: The Preservers were an offshoot of the hani, and appear to have gone extinct relatively recently (within the last 1,000 years).

• Vegan Tyrants: The Tyrants may also have been a hani species but they may also be related to the Old Kings of Klingon history. Vanishingly little is known of them.

• Arretians: Another hani remnant species, they destroyed themselves approximately 500kya. A lost colony may have interbred with Vulcans 6,000 years ago to produce the current, metapsychic species.

• Time Planet’s race: The only working artifact to survive from this race is the Guardian of Forever.

• Slavers: The thrintun were one of the first sentient species in the Milky Way galaxy, flourishing more than a billion years ago. Knowledge of their existence derives almost exclusively from discoveries of their stasis boxes, which preserve a variety of artifacts in an atemporal field. The only other known species from this remote era is the tnuctipun, the slaves who destroyed the Slaver Empire.

• Hainim: The direct descendants of hani who didn’t transcend (for whatever reason). In the modern era, they live a materially, technologically simple lifestyle on Hain.

• Talosians: The species continues to survive on Talos (at least as late as 2205) but both they and the Federation maintain a strict quarantine of the system.

Major Races: The major races are simply the current civilizations that play an important role in the present era and include:

• Humans
• Alphacenti (Angwusnasomtaqa)
• Vulcans (Kasî)
• Andorians (Andî or An’ndarân)
• Tellarites (Maushark)
• Klingons (tlhIngan)
• Romulans (Tsenuchaya)
• Orions (Ferengi)
• Gorn
• Tholians
• Kardassi
• Lyrans (Tzenkethi)
• Hydrans
• Eridani

c. 2mya – 50kya
An unknown species (or multiple species), commonly referred to as the hani, whose homeworld is Hain, seed a large number of starsystems with hominids from Earth, including Vulcan and Romulus. This fact explains the prevalence of humanoids in the region, and the relative ease of interspecies fertility.

The seed populations are not limited to Earth. There is cross seeding, illustrated in the cases of Romulus, whose population came initially from Vulcan 70,000 years ago, and the Kalar of the Rigel Star Group, who were also transplanted from Vulcan 200,000 years ago.

c. 100kya – 12kya
Approximately 100,000 years ago, the Old Kings conquers the primitive natives of Klinzhai (despite their humanoid appearance, the original Klingons were unmodified natives to their world) and begin a series of genetic modifications that make the base Klingon genome extraordinarily “plastic,” able to fuse with most other carbon-based genomes with relative ease. This results in a wide variety of castes that fulfill various functions for the Old Kings’ civilization.

c. 25kya
The majority of hani ascend, leaving a remnant physical population behind on Hain that continues to survive into the modern era.

c. 12kya
The Klingons rise up against their masters and overthrow the Old Kings in a holocaust that destroys many worlds and reduces Klinzhai to a Stone Age level.

A colony in the Fomalhaut A system evolves into the Orions (Ferengi) from a base population of pleasure- and labor-caste Klingons.

On Klinzhai, the so-called Imperial Race emerges from a mixture of labor and soldier castes with some admixture from smaller, more specialized populations.

c. 5000 BC - 4000 BC
Vulcan’s first advanced civilizations flourish. Though they never develop warp drive, they do create an interplanetary civilization of considerable accomplishment.

Vulcan nearly perishes in a nuclear and biological cataclysm that utterly wipes out these first civilizations and leaves few survivors. The extra-Vulcan colonies are unable to survive without support from the homeworld and perish.

The Vulcans of this era were far closer to humans physically and mentally. Though they had a greater capacity for metapsychic talent, it was not dominant. Post-Cataclysm, there is evidence that the Preservers intervened in Vulcan development, producing the modern Vulcan species. The discovery of Sargon’s World (Arret) in AD 2206 corroborated this theory.

c. 3000
Romulus develops its first urban civilizations and begins a historical and cultural development that closely mirrors Earth. Technical discovery largely parallels Earth’s so that when the two races meet in the 22nd century, they are on a par.

c. AD 1
Surak appears and sets Vulcan on its path of “logical” development. It’s not an easy road to follow and Surak is long dead when Vulcan is finally united under his philosophy’s aegis.

On Earth, the three Abrahamic religions of West Asia become the dominant creeds.

c. 700 – 1700
The Vegan Tyranny dominates the Primary Volume, conquering the nascent starfaring races of Tellar (61 Cygni), Andor (Epsilon Indi) and Orion (Ferenginar - Fomalhaut A).

c. 1400
On Romulus, the first space missions begin. By 1600, Remus hosts several large colonies of various hearthworld polities.

Also, a warrior-centered religion broadly similar to the militant Shintoism of early 20th Century Japan begins to flourish. Riding a wave of religious fervor, one nation conquers the planet by 1750.

c. 1600
Klinzhai is unified under the Klingon High Council, with the occasional Emperor or Empress ascending to the throne.

c. 1700
The Vegan Tyranny is overthrown. The Tellarites, Andorians and Orions all begin to develop independent, starfaring civilizations.

c. 1800
Vulcan discovers warp-drive.

Romulus conquers Remus.

Klingons first venture into interplanetary space.

c. 1900
Klingons develop warp-drive.

c. 1950 – 1970
The Emperor Kahless leads the first expansion of the Klingon Empire into interstellar space. After him, there would always be an Emperor or an Empress.

c. 1970 – 2020
Keth the Centenarian establishes the political foundations of the Klingon Empire and ensures that it will outlast its founder’s death.

c. 2000
Vulcan explorers reach Sol and begin observations. At the same time they prevent other civilizations (notably Andor and Tellar) from interfering in Earth development.

Second Great Depression (Earth): The economic meltdown of the world economy leads to small-scale wars, terrorism, and political and social instability (including “Colonel” Green’s dictatorship, which endured from 2033-2035 over a large portion of Southeast Asia and Australia). The estimated death toll is 600+ million.

By tradition, the Second Depression ends when an obscure physicist at the University of Montana, Zefrem Cochrane, publishes his unified field theory, published 2044 as On the Foundations of Reality. (at the age of 34).

Cochrane publishes On the Foundations of Warp Dynamics, proving the theoretical possibility of FTL travel.

Exhausted by 40 years of turmoil, the surviving nations of the world reconvene the United Nations in Toronto. (Toronto was chosen as a neutral meeting ground since there was still a great deal of mistrust among the major powers of the period such as Brazil, Singapore and Tehran.)

The Toronto Conventions are adopted – the first step toward an effective world government. This document is heralded in subsequent decades as being on a par with the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the original UN Charter, the Fundamental Declaration of the Martian Colonies, etc.

Work begins on dismantling the world’s arsenals of conventional and nuclear weapons.

Taking advantage of disarmament, Cochrane convinces a consortium to back the building of a warp-drive prototype using a nuclear missile as a foundation.

c. 2055
The fundamental constitution of the current Romulan government takes shape around this time.

Cochrane launches the first warp-drive ship, Phoenix. The ship is detected by a Vulcan surveyor in-system at the time, leading to First Contact.

Subsequently, Vulcan aids Earth with medical and other humanitarian technology that allows the planet to recover from the previous century.

Vulcan introduces Earth to the Andorian Star Empire, the Tellarite Territories, the Orions and the near-human inhabitants of Alphacent.

While the Andorians and Tellarites are clearly products of a nonhuman evolution, the Alphacenti turn out to be the modern descendants of the Neanderthal, presumably transported from Earth by unknown entities. (Archeological evidence proves that the entire ecosphere of Alphacent is only about 250,000 E-years old. Before then, the planet could only be classed as M by courtesy – it was far too cold, arid and oxygen poor to support life more complex than lichens.)

Earth’s space program concentrates on developing intra-Solar industries and colonies. Permanent bases are established on Luna (2068) and Mars (2080), and a flourishing space industry develops.

SS Lewis & Clark reaches Saturn (2071) and discovers evidence of alien artifacts on many of its moons (approximately 0.25 million years old).

Xenoarcheologists discover extensive ruins at the Martian poles (2077). Like the Saturnian relics, the oldest date to about a quarter of a million years ago and the youngest are about 100,000 years old.

In this period, certain member governments of the United Nations begin secret experiments in eugenics, ostensibly to eliminate genetic disorders in the human species but with the ultimate goal of creating a race of “supermen.”

The United Nations Space Fleet (UNSF) is created. Though it is a military body, the focus of its training is on avoiding conflict.

First Earth Trading Mission to the Orion Colonies.

The United Nations Space Fleet Academy is opened in San Francisco.

The Fundamental Declaration of the Martian Colonies establishes the right of any Earth colony to self-government.

The Eugenics Wars: The “supermen” rise up against the United Nations and their own creators, seizing power in a number of territories.

The last significant military conflict fought on Earth claims 60 million lives. The greater portion of these casualties was incurred in the campaign against Khan Noonian Singh, the most powerful and capable of the “supermen,” who ruled India and Southeast Asia.

Genetic experimentation is severely limited, though research in combating genetic disorders continues and results in some remarkable advances.

Horrified that Earth may be plunging into a fourth World War, Zefrem Cochrane emigrates to Alphacent (at the age of 86). Still mentally and physically active, the esteemed Cochrane teaches at several Alphacenti research establishments for the next two years before disappearing into uncharted space aboard a prototype warp shuttle.

Khan Singh escapes the storming of his capital (Karachi) with c. 100 fellow “supermen” aboard a sublight, DY-100 class ship (Botany Bay), which escapes the UNSF’s net to disappear into interstellar space (Singh used a sublight vessel so as to avoid a detectable warp signature).

Outside of Singh’s clique, 114 “supermen” survive the war and are interred in a penal colony in Antarctica.

c. 2100
By 2100, Anglic has become the de facto lingua franca of Earth. A mix of English (its foundation), Argentine Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Hindi, Mandarin and Cantonese (with other, lesser influences), it would be largely unintelligible to an English speaker of the early 21st Century.

Romulus develops warp-drive.

Sarek of Vulcan is born.

Loathe to execute the “supermen,” the UN finally decides to exile them to an extra-Solar colony – Sikudhani, a G5 sub-giant 78 light years from Earth which hosts a Class F, marginally habitable world. The voyage takes nearly 12 years (at warp 2), with the “supermen” in suspended animation aboard two automated ships.

Earth establishes its first (officially recognized) extra-Solar colony in the τ Ceti system (τ Ceti II Newhope).

The first era of extra-Solar expansion. Since even the most advanced ships are limited by technology to speeds of warp 3 or less, only about 20 worlds in a 40-light-year radius are colonized.

The Bellerophon expedition reaches Altair (a 200+ day voyage at Wf 3) and discovers the ruins of the Krell civilization (α Aquilae II).

Amanda Grayson is born. Scion of an influential family of noted scientists, she moves to Vulcan in 2140 to join the Science Academy there and meets Sarek.

The “supermen” reach Sikudhani and establish the colony of Prometheus (Sikudhani VI).

The Voyager A probe series is sent to map nearby space. Eight highly advanced vehicles are launched, of which all but one return within the alloted mission time. Voyager A-6 is caught in a black hole’s influence and disappears.

Sarek and Amanda Grayson marry.

Sarek and Amanda Grayson conceive the first (and as of 2300, the only) hybrid human-Vulcan, Spock.

CSV Etruscan disappears while surveying the ρ Puppis system. It’s later confirmed that this is the first contact with the Romulans.

CSV Vespa is lost in the same region as Etruscan.

DSV Digenes Akritas survives an encounter with two Romulan warbirds in the τ Gladii system. The UNSF goes on Priority One Alert and plans are made to expand its military arm.

The Romulan War begins when New Novgorod is obliterated by orbital bombardment and the Romulans open an all-out offensive against Earth and its allies. Until 2174, neither side has any capital ships so the conflict develops between single ships and small task forces. Commanders on both sides are largely on their own.

The UNSF and Romulan forces struggle indecisively over the next decade without ever meeting face to face before a treaty is arranged by subspace radio. Andor and Alphacent participate in several campaigns but Vulcan and Tellar remain neutral.

In the wake of the war, a movement begins to create a federation of some sort among Earth, Vulcan, Andor, Tellar and Alphacent.

James Kirk is born in Iowa (Earth) (an older brother, Samuel, is born in 2168).

Richard Daystrom develops the prototype duotronic computer.

The first Achilles class cruiser comes out of the SanFran Orbital Yards. Andor, which enthusiastically participates in the war, focuses on support vessels like the enormously successful Huzrûn class missile cruiser and the Batarân class destroyer.

The Romulans don’t have the capacity to build such vessels and the tides of war rapidly turn against the empire, culminating in the Battle of Cheron in late 2175. It’s a clear victory for Earth and its allies but at a terrific price. Neither side can continue to prosecute the war.

Faced with increased pirate activity (Orions primarily but some may have been the result of Klingon activity) and pressure from the Vulcans and a growing peace faction in the Assembly, the UN sues for peace with Romulus.

UN Secretary General Abram Danton and the Romulan sayagur (Praetor) Vritloki Sarrag hammer out the Treaty of Cheron. At no point in 10+ years of war did either side come face to face, nor did the Romulans ever accept any communication attempts until the treaty negotiations. Even then, no visual communications were ever established.

From fragmentary remains, Earth knew that the Romulans were one of the many humanoid races in the Volume; and DNA showed a close relationship with Vulcans. The Vulcans managed to keep this quiet but even they didn’t realize how close the relationship was.

The Romulans pursue an intensive course of weapons development and ship design that results in the plasma torpedo, a practical cloaking device and the Hnek (warbird) class cruiser. It does not result in dilithium or transporter technology, which proves decisive when the Empire tests the Federation’s defenses in 2205.

Earth discovers the properties of dilithium, which make warp drives capable of Wf 5 (the so-called “time” barrier) and above possible. The Klingons had discovered dilithium c. 2175 but didn’t reveal ships equipped with them until after the UFP introduced the Constitution class cruisers.

The DSV Sentry engages the IKV DevajSogh to rescue a Klingon family fleeing from that empire, inaugurating Earth’s first known contact with the Klingons (unexplained disappearances of ships in the preceding decade could have been due to Klingons, and Earth merchants may have unknowingly encountered Klingon traders in the bazaars of the Orion Colonies). (This is the so-called battle of Donatu V mentioned by Spock in The Trouble with Tribbles.)

The Klingon frontier with the Primary Volume was about 6 months travel time from Earth at Wf 4 but the Klingons had been sending scouts and recon expeditions deep into what would become Federation Treaty Space for decades.

The existence of two large, aggressive interstellar polities is the final piece of the puzzle – In the First Babel Conference, the Founding Worlds (Earth, Vulcan, Andor, Tellar, Alphacent) create the United Federation of Planets (2184).

One of its first tests as a government is the rescue and aid mission to the Tarsus Colony, where 4,000 colonists had been massacred by its governor (2185).

George and Winona Kirk and family move to the Tarsus Colony. George dies in Kodos’ pogrom but Winona and her sons survive, returning to Earth.

“The Flying Fortress” Incident; Earth very nearly goes to war with Klinzhai.

With the processing power of duotronic computers, the matter transporter is successfully tested.

Over this decade, the various space fleets of the Federation’s member worlds are integrated into Starfleet.

In addition to Starfleet, the UFP creates the Civil Space Service. Not as formal an organization as the Fleet, the CSS still regulates civil shipping throughout the Federation; for example, no crewer can serve aboard a vessel without certification from the CSS. Both organizations become the “glue” that unites the myriad cultures of the new alliance.

The Axanar Peace Mission forestalls outright war between the new Federation and the Klingon Empire but incidents continue to occur between the two polities.

The UFP evacuates 10 million from Bayard’s Planet, whose system would be rendered uninhabitable from the effects of the nearby φ Puma nova. It’s another major undertaking by the newborn alliance that proves its worth.

The first Constitution class heavy cruiser, DSV Constellation, begins active duty. The Constitutions are more than simply battle cruisers, incorporating incorporate facilities for exploration and scientific research. The design turns out to be more successful than its creators could have hoped, as Constitution-based starships become the backbone of Starfleet for the next two centuries.

Kirk attends Starfleet Academy.

Spock abandons his father’s teachings and leaves the Vulcan Science Academy to join Starfleet.

Creation of the UFP Law Enforcement Agency (as the alliance was already known as “the Federation,” the agency’s acronym quickly became FLEA and its agents “fleas”).

Enterprise comes out of the L-5 shipyards of Sol; she is the first of the Constitutions whose components are built entirely from scratch and the first nonprototype to incorporate several major advances: dilithium crystals, making speeds of Wf 5+ possible; duotronic computers; phaser and photon weapons technology; and the transporter.

Starbase One – aka Fleet Headquarters – is built on Luna, Earth’s moon (by the time Kirk assumes command of Enterprise, it’s become known as Lunar Command, or less charitably, the Loonie Bin).

Robert April commands Enterprise. Spock joins the sciences department in 2193 as an ensign.

Kirk rapidly rises through the ranks to become the youngest Starship captain in history. He first serves aboard Republic but his longest service is aboard Farragut, where he becomes the protégé of its captain, Warren Garrovick.

Spock serves aboard Enterprise before resigning to pursue the kolinahr discipline on Vulcan.

Christopher Pike commands Enterprise.

The Talos Star Group is declared “off limits.”

The Back to Earth movement results in the Federation’s first existential crisis, nearly causing the break up of the newborn polity at the Second Babel Conference.

The Conference also results in the short-lived experiment of exchanging ambassadors between the Federation and Klinzhai. (The Federation’s ambassador was recalled after two years, and the Klingon’s ambassador never officially occupied the “Klingon Embassy” on Earth, he and his entourage were hosted on Deep Space Station J-7 for the embassy’s entire existence.)

Matt Decker takes command of Constellation.

James Kirk commands Enterprise for the first time.

A long-anticipated war with the Klingons ends abruptly when the Organians intervene and stop it. The Organian Treaty will govern Federation/Klingon relations for the next 25 years.

In this year too, the Federation comes into face-to-face contact with the Romulans, discovering them to be a Vulcan subspecies.

Enterprise encounters the so-called “energy barrier” near the galaxy’s rim. Initially this phenomenon is thought to be natural and extend around the galaxy but a subsequent joint UFP/First Federation scientific mission (2210-2219) discovers that it is the remnant of a vast alien construct that may have surrounded a volume of space 10,000 LYs across. Considering its properties, its purpose was most likely defensive. The mission “turned it off” in 2217 and xeno-archeological expeditions continue to study the ruins of the mechanisms to the modern day.

The Time Planet becomes the second “off limits” world, and a highly classified archeological expedition begins researching its artifacts.

The Klingons and Romulans contact each other and agree to several technology-exchange treaties over the next century. The first treaties result in the sale of several hundred D-6 class cruisers to the Romulans, and the production of the Hnek-lla class warbird, capable of Wf 6/8 and equipped with disruptors in addition to a plasma torpedo. Like the Constitution heavy cruiser in Starfleet, the Hnek becomes the basis for most Romulan ship classes for many years to come.

Multitronic computer research suffers a catastrophic setback with the M-5 debacle. Despite this, several of Richard Daystrom’s colleagues persevere in making a workable multitronic circuit, succeeding in 2211. Because of their breakthroughs, both the Genesis project and transwarp drives are made possible.

Enterprise undergoes extensive refits, making it the class ship of a fourth generation of heavy cruisers.

The first great expansion of the Romulan Star Empire brings it into volumes opposite to the Federation. They encounter the Gorn sometime between 2215-2220 and engage in several short but intensive wars with them.

The V’Ger probe (the reconstituted Voyager A-6) returns to Earth.

The M-6 multitronic computer is perfected, making possible the breaking of the “transwarp” barrier (speeds that approach the theoretical limit of Wf 10).

Starfleet commissions the building of the Excelsior class of transwarp heavy cruisers.

Spock commands Enterprise; though under him its duties are primarily confined to training and scientific research. Kirk becomes Chief of Training Operations. Uhura and Scott remain aboard as XO and Chief Engineer, respectively. Chekov transfers to Reliant as XO; and Sulu gets in line to command one of the Excelsior class ships coming on line.

The Genesis Incident precipitates the second great crisis in the Federation’s existence and a precipitous deterioration in UFP/Klingon relations, though the Organian Treaty continues to preclude armed combat. (As Carol Marcus was the only surviving Genesis team-member to survive the debacle, the Federation Council has little difficulty suppressing the theory and technology to create the Genesis Effect, and it appears that no other polity has had the temerity to pursue it in the century since.)

The Incident also induces the Star Empire to open formal relations with the Federation. By 2216, there’s a Romulan ambassador on Earth and a Federation ambassador opens an embassy on Remus (the Romulans refuse to allow aliens on the hearthworld).

Despite technical difficulties, the fifth generation of heavy cruiser-class vessels incorporating transwarp technology enters regular service. (Transwarp drive is based on a better utilization of warp-field generation, making speeds closer to the theoretical maximum of Wf 10 possible.)

By 2215, all of the Constitutions had been refitted to Enterprise class standards. They would remain in production through 2218, the last being decommissioned in 2230.

An extragalactic probe wreaks havoc on Earth’s ecosystem in an effort to re-establish contact with the extinct species of humpback whale. Representatives of the species rescued from the 20th century and brought forward in time satisfy the probe so that it ceases its assault on Earth. Naturally, research into utterly nonhuman intelligences receives a tremendous boost.

The probe refuses any contact with Federation representatives but its departure trajectory sends it toward the Magellanic Clouds.

Kirk commands Enterprise on its final five-year mission before he and the ship retire from active service. Kirk is promoted to Fleet Captain, Reserve, and Enterprise becomes a Museum Ship at the Memory Prime Complex at α Centauri.

A catastrophic subspace implosion destroys a Klingon operations complex in their home system and threatens Klinzhai with destruction (its effects were felt clear to the Klingon/UFP frontier). A promising beginning of talks between the Federation and the Empire ultimately results in nothing. The Klingons balk at potentially becoming dependents of the “Earthers.” Even today the Klingons do not discuss the measures taken to save their homeworld but by 2250 Klinzhai had apparently fully recovered.

DSV Excalibur (under Aunas Sirjari) reestablishes contact with the “supermen’s” colony on Prometheus. The Prometheans have managed to survive the overweening ambitions of its first generation of “supermen” by re-engineering the brains of second and subsequent generations to produce proteins that ameliorate aggressive expressions – the Prometheans retain the basic drives of unmodified humans. Since this expresses itself (partially) in pheromones, even first-generation “supermen” find themselves acting less aggressively. This effect is found to affect unmodified humans as well.

Prometheus becomes the third world to be declared “off limits.”

Jean-Luc Picard is born in France (Earth).

Apparently satisfied that the Federation and the Klingon Empire have advanced sufficiently to preclude another full-scale war, the Organians inform the respective capitals that they will no longer enforce the Treaty outside of the Organian system.

Tensions rapidly escalate between the UFP and the Klingon Empire but a “hot” war is avoided. The Federation, though it has a “war party,” cannot afford war with the Klingons as it is juggling a host of negotiations with other potentially hostile polities such as the Gorn and the Tholians. The Klingons, in turn, are attempting to deal with their own diplomatic problems, having encountered two highly advanced, highly aggressive polities on their borders opposite the Federation (codenamed “Lyra” and “Hydra” by the Federation).

James Kirk dies alone saving Enterprise-B from destruction.

At the Federation’s 50th year, the outlook of most member worlds is good. Despite an almost continual state of crisis with the Klingons, other diplomatic fronts look promising (or at least “not threatening”) – the Gorn, while not overly friendly, eagerly accept trade with the Federation and exhibit no great desire for conflict; the Tholians want nothing more than to be left alone, something the Federation is happy to oblige; relations with other star-faring races are good; and the Romulans demonstrate little interest in testing Starfleet’s defenses.

The first Ambassador class heavy cruiser is commissioned. These vessels gradually supersede the Excelsior class as Starfleet’s flagships.

The Ersatz War: Matters come to a head between the Federation and the Klingons but neither can declare a real war because of economic and political factors. What results is a series of single-ship and small fleet “incidents” that cause tremendous loss of life but resolve nothing.

Starting in 2243, a remarkable conference of UFP and Empire diplomats hammers out the Khitomer Accords, which not only bring hostilities to an end but (to the surprise of everyone) actually calls for a limited alliance and the beginning of normal relations.

The Romulan Empire unilaterally pulls out of its treaties with the Klingons, and recall their ambassador to the Federation. They close off the Treaty Ports and seal their borders with the UFP and the Klingons for the next 40 years.

From 2245 to the end of the century, the Romulans and Klingons carry on an enthusiastic “war” of privateers and raids. Most encounters involve fewer than 5 vessels on either side but there are several major engagements (including the infamous Khitomer Massacre and the Tomed Incident).

The Khitomer Massacre: A Romulan task force destroys the colony via orbital bombardment.

Romulans destroy Enterprise-C (an Ambassador class cruiser) when it responds to a distress call from the Klingon colony at Narendra III (narghrIn’a wej).

The Federation’s centennial is inaugurated with the introduction of the first Galaxy class heavy cruiser – the latest generation of the heavy cruiser class, incorporating the advances of the previous century, and continuing the tradition of peaceful exploration and expansion. At this time, the Federation comprises nearly 500 full status member worlds (“world” here describing not only planets but also artificial habitats) in 320+ systems; it also maintains associate status with a further thousand.

The Klingon Empire at this time is thought to comprise 300+ worlds plus the same number of splinter states and client worlds. The alliance with the Federation still governs relations between Klinzhai and Earth. Economic interdependence has become so great that there is little sentiment for hostilities on either side, though uncontrolled contact between the two polities is still infrequent.

The Romulans are thought to control approximately 150 worlds (many artificial constructs, considering the paucity of Class M worlds in that region). The Federation is aware that the Romulans and Gorn have clashed repeatedly but the Gorn are reticent and the Romulans mute about the subject. The Federation is also aware that the Romulans have encountered a third polity, codenamed “Eridani,” which has dominated their attention since soon after the Treaty Ports were closed (this information is based on third-hand accounts gleaned from the Klingons and the Orions).

The Orions remain independent. Orion was formerly a slave world of a Vegan Tyrant. When those enigmatic beings were overthrown c. 1700, Orion exploited the advanced technology left behind and became a trading entrepot for the surviving races of the region; a position they continue to hold. Some Orion “families” also became notorious as pirates and smugglers, willing to carry any cargo to any destination for the right price. The Federation strictly regulates trade between member worlds and an Orion Colony (statistically, the plurality of military incidents with Starfleet vessels involves Orion privateers).

The Gorn and Federation have opened a handful of Treaty Ports but contact between the polities is strictly controlled and very limited. The Federation believes that the Gorn occupy 100-120 worlds.

The Tholians continue to refuse contact with any other race. Since its first encounter with the Federation, the Tholian Assembly has become less preemptive in protecting its space, usually warning ships that they have strayed before escalating the confrontation.

Direct contact with the “Lyrans” and “Hydrans” has still not been established. It is believed that the Lyrans are felinoid in appearance and are at least as technologically capable as the Federation and the Empire. The Hydrans are believed to be one of the few known methane-breathing species.

The newest star-faring polity in the region is the Kardassi Union, which first encountered the Klingons some time after the Ersatz War. The Kardassi are a relatively young species; they only acquired dilithium technology after meeting the Klingons. They are also a highly aggressive species, routinely attacking both Klingon and Federation colonies and ships they believe are trespassing in their space. As in the Ersatz War, tensions are high on both sides and “incidents” are frequent.

Jean-Luc Picard commands Enterprise-D.

The Sovereign class heavy cruiser is commissioned.

Deneb (α Cygni) joins the Federation. At c. 1400 LYs from Earth, it is the most remote UFP member; even at Wf 10 it takes 10 months to reach it.

Enterprise-D is destroyed preventing the use of a nova-inducing device by terrorists.

The Sovereign class Enterprise-E is commissioned and given to Picard to command.

Enterprise-E is instrumental in preventing another terrorist group from going back in time and preventing Zefrem Cochrane from making First Contact with the Vulcans.

The Dominion War: An alliance between the Kardassi, the Tzenkethi and the Hydrans launches a war against the Klingons. Initially, the Klingons do not invoke the treaty with the Federation and attempt to deal with the problem on their own. After several near-crippling defeats, however, they swallow their pride and ask for assistance. The Federation attempts to remain neutral but eventually lives up to its treaty obligations and supports Klinzhai in several crucial engagements that break the alliance’s back.

The war ends with 400 million Klingon deaths, 800 million Kardassi dead, and a near equal number of Tzenkethi (Hydran casualties are unknown but at least three gas giants were utterly sterilized with the loss of all life). No Federation world suffered a direct attack but Starfleet casualties numbered more than 60,000, making it the bloodiest single conflict in its history, and the bloodiest conflict involving humans since the Earth-Romulan War 120 years earlier.

Romulus enters into a disastrous war with the Eridani. In 2300, Suorun hai Vriyag, a Romulan fleet commander, seizes power in a bloody purge of the ke’eretl (Senate) and the varannu tsa (Fleet High Command).

Normal diplomatic relations are resumed between the Star Empire and the Federation.

Some Notes:
The leaders of the revolt against the Old Kings were a scientist caste whose brains were augmented similarly to the human “supermen” of the Eugenics Wars and a caste of metapsychics whose powers (according to legend) rivalled those of Vulcans. The far more numerous (and paranoid) Imperial Race exterminated both these castes within a millennium of the revolt and little of their genetic legacy remains.

The Preservers (or Arretians) were the penultimate of the Forerunner races (the Vegan Tyrants were the last). They flourished in regions that are now dominated by the Federation and the Klingons up to 5,000 years ago. Contact with Sargon, Thalassa and Henoch was too brief to establish the nature of Preserver civilization except that the primary culture destroyed itself in a war a half-million years ago. It’s theorized that a remnant population may have interbred with archaic Vulcans after the Cataclysm, though their origins remain a mystery.

“Logical” is put in quotes because it is an inadequate translation of what Surak’s philosophy attempts to describe, which is the wholly integrated reality of the universe as perceived by the conscious mind. Even most Vulcans have only a limited knowledge of or experience with Surak’s disciplines.

The last meeting of the UN had occurred in 2027, and ended when mobs stormed its New York headquarters and massacred the diplomats in attendance.

Vulcan (T’Kthušai – 40 Eridani, 16.5 LY), Alphacent (Polikaptiwa – α Centauri, 4.3 LY), Tellar (Mauhúl – 61 Cygni, 11 LY), Andor (Andar – Epsilon Indi, 11 LY), Orion (Ferenginar – Fomalhaut A, 22 LY).

τ Ceti IV n’Kafri is home to an insectoid races known as the Kafer.

An unexplained catastrophe destroyed the expedition a year into the survey of the planet. Its cause was only discovered 18 years later when the UNSF scout Denmark rescued the ship’s only survivor, a child of two of the expedition’s scientists. Subsequently, α Aquilae II was destroyed by a runaway chain reaction of the Krell’s energy-production systems.

Sarek and Amanda’s union remains unique in the history of humans and Vulcans. While intimate relationships between human and Vulcan have and continue to occur none have resulted in such a long-term union or the production of off-spring.

The Treaty of Cheron set up the infamous Romulan Neutral Zone. It’s not a border so much as a zone of space monitored by both sides. Centered on Cheron, it is 100 LYs across and 2 LYs wide. Any starsystem that falls within this zone is off limits to Earth vessels (and later Federation vessels) or the Star Empire’s. With the exception of Cheron, there are no Class M worlds charted in the RNZ and few systems contested in the war fell within the zone. Its primary purpose, once the monitoring stations were set up, was as a buffer between the UFP and the Empire, making it extraordinarily difficult for either side to interact (theoretically, Federation or Romulan ships could have spent six months going around the zone to infiltrate the other side).

The breaking of the “time” barrier in 2184 reduced the effectiveness of the zone but the Federation chose to honor the treaty, and the Romulans only gained dilithium technology when they made contact with the Klingons in 2206.

The “Lyrans” are ancient foes of the Klingons, possibly encountered as far back as their earliest forays into space. According to Orion sources, the Lyrans call themselves Tzenkethi. They are a felinoid race but beyond a reputation for extreme ferocity and violence, nothing else is known of them and no encounters have occurred between a Federation ship and a Tzenkethi.

The “Hydrans” were encountered sometime before 2230 in systems the Klingons were mining for He3. They are a methane-breathing species that lives in the atmospheres of gas giants. As with the Lyrans/Tzenkethi, the Federation’s knowledge of this race comes mainly from Orion sources; it’s sketchy and unreliable.

There are two Denebs in Federation parlance – Deneb Kaitos, which lies 96 LYs from Earth, is home to an elephantine species that joined the UFP in the early 2200s. Deneb Prime is home to the humanoid Bandi.

06 August 2010

Hiroshima Day 2010

For the interested my thoughts anent Hiroshima can be found on my post from August 2009. I think it's a good thing that, for the first time, we're sending a relatively high ranking representative - the U.S. ambassador to Japan - to the commemorative ceremony but I feel there's still a long way to go before we own up to the consequences of our choice to drop the A-bomb in the first place.

Actually, this year's anniversary brings to mind the recent revelations from WikiLeaks concerning the failing occupation in Afghanistan and the continued existence of the same moral blinkers that made Hiroshima possible. Tom Engelhardt's latest TomDispatch asks the question about just whose hands are bloody - hypothetically Mr. Assange's or the architects of the Afghan War's whose casualties are all too real. The following are all examples of the real blood on the real hands of the real war criminals in this affair:

  • July 2008 - An American plane or planes "take out" an Afghan bridal party -- 70 to 90 strong and made up mostly of women -- on a road near the Pakistani border.
  • August 2008 - A memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Province is hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that kill at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children.
  • April 2009 - Members of the family of Awal Khan, an Afghan army artillery commander on duty elsewhere, are killed in a U.S.-led raid in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. Among them are his "schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, employed by a government department.” Another daughter is wounded and the pregnant wife of Khan's cousin is shot five times in the abdomen.
  • November 2009 - Two relatives of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture, are shot down in cold blood in Ghazni City in a Special Operations night raid.
  • February 2010 - U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters strike a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children.
  • February 2010 - In a special operations night raid, two pregnant women and a teenage girl, as well as a police officer and his brother, are shot to death in their home.
  • July 2010 - Residents of a small town in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan claim that a NATO missile attack killed 52 civilians.
I am reminded of something I just read in Peter Heather's Empires and Barbarians: As a result of Roman diplomatic and military policy along its frontiers (which included, among other things, periodic incursions to install "good" leaders/depose "bad" and destroy the means of production), the empire sowed the seeds of its own destruction by fostering the growth of anti-Roman, organized polities.

Except for the actors, what's really changed in 2,000 years?

01 August 2010

Semiannual Book Review (Jan-Jun 2010)

It's a month late but here's my picks from the first six months of my 2010 readings:

On the fictional front, I made two spectacular discoveries this year: Sylvia Townsend Warner and T.F. Powys.

A couple of years ago, I read Warner's The Kingdoms of Elfin, a collection of short stories set in various fairy realms. I enjoyed the book but was unaware that she had written anything else. Come an issue of The Nation and there's a review of a reissue of her novel Summer Will Show that sounded so interesting, I had to follow up. As it turned out, the first book I read was Lolly Willowes: Or the Loving Huntsman. It was brilliant! Over the course of the next few months, I devoured Mr. Fortune's Maggot, The Salutation and the novel that started it all, Summer Will Show. On the to-read shelf remain The Corner That Held Them, The Music at Long Verney, T.H. White: A Biography, Warner: Selected Stories and The Barnards of Loseby (aka The Flint Anchor).

In the course of reading Warner, I came across the observation that she admired the author Theodore Powys so I decided to track down his stuff and was amply rewarded with The White Paternoster and Other Stories and Father Adam. Still to read is the short-story collection Mock's Curse. I'd like to get copies of Unclay and Mr. Weston's Good Wine. Unfortunately, Powys' work has long been out-of-print and it's difficult to find reasonably priced editions.

I can't explain better on why to read both these authors than to quote from John Gray's essay on Powys in The New Statesman:

"In their different ways, all three Powys brothers deserve retrieving for a
wider readership, but none more so than Theodore. He is by far the best writer
among them, and the most original. The greatest value of his work, though, is in
showing that it is still possible to write about the primordial human
experiences to which religion is a response. Secular writers tend to steer clear
of them, and end up stuck in the shallows of politics or fashion. On the other
hand, Christian writers are mostly precious and unpersuasive, like T.S. Eliot,
or else more or less openly fraudulent, like Graham Greene. Very few
20th-century authors have the knack of writing convincingly of first and last
things. A religious writer without any vestige of belief, Theodore Powys is one
of them."

Other fiction works of note this first half of the year include:

Anchorwick, Geoffrey Barlough
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G.K. Chesterton
Blindsight, Peter Watts
The Red Tree, Caitlin Kiernan
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Run, Man, Run, Chester Himes
Lorna Doone, R. Blackmore

I've made comments on all of these at my GoodReads site.

Before moving on to the nonfiction side, I should mention that there were a few months when I went on a Star Trek novel reading jag, prompted by my purchase of a model of the rebooted Enterprise, chronicled in my April post. It turned out to have some profit: I discovered a very good author, David Mack (Sorrows of Empire, Vanguard: Harbinger, Vanguard: Reap the Whirlwind and Vanguard: Precipice, again all of these have some commentary at my GR site).

In nonfiction, I found myself preoccupied with a loosely themed course of religion-based readings. I began last Christmas with an audio CD of Karen Armstrong's Buddha; in January, I moved on to Wendy Doniger's The Hindus. From there I moved on to:

Augustine, Gary Wills (audio CD)
Christianity and Chinese Religions, Hans Kung/Julia Ching
Lost in the Sacred, Dan Diner
God's Battalions, Rodney Stark
A People's History of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass
The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes
Becoming Enlightened, The Dalai Lama
Sarah the Priestess, Savina Teubal
The Woman Who Named God, Charlotte Gordon
Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrmann
The Evolution of God, Robert Wright

Most have commentary at my GR site. The most "mind blowing" was Jaynes' The Origins of Consciousness, which argues that human beings didn't develop a modern consciousness until the 2nd millennium BC. Before then, we were essentially schizophrenics, listening to voices in our heads and interpreting them as gods (or God).

Another interesting and controversial book was Diner's Lost in the Sacred. The author argues that Islam suffers from a lack of secularization.

The Evolution of God was preaching to the choir when it covered the development of the notion of "divinity" over time but Wright lost me when he attempted to argue that our ideas have progressed toward an ever more benevolent and universal deity. He comes across as an agnostic desperately trying to find a reason to believe. That said, it's still a book worth reading.

My position on religion (atheism) didn't change - in fact, it was strengthened by my reading - but I did learn a great deal and enjoyed the experience.

Other nonfiction of note:

The Balkans, Mark Mazower (audio CD)
From Eternity to Here, Sean Carroll
The 10,000 Year Explosion, Gregory Cochran
The Humans Who Went Extinct, Clive Finlayson
Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich
A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire, Anton Chekhov
Out of Our Heads, Alva Noe

One of the more interesting books was The 10,000 Year Explosion. The authors make the nonstartling (to me) assertions that evolution has continued to affect humans up to the modern day and raise all sorts of interesting examples to illustrate this but wind up relying too heavily on the biological basis for human cultures.

Well, it's the beginning of August and I've already got 9+ books under my belt for the second half of the year and many more interesting ones on the To-Read shelf so the year-end review should have some further interesting reading to talk about.

11 April 2010

Rebooted Enterprise vs. TOS/Movie Enterprises

JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot finally came onto my Netflix queue a few months ago and I finally got around to seeing it. I have mixed feelings about the movie, though one of the three things that worked for me was the rebooted Enterprise.

Up to this moment, the movie version of the original Enterprise had held pride of place in my heart, followed closely by the Enterprise-E, first seen in First Contact (without doubt, the only good TNG movie). The TOS Enterprise is a beautiful ship but it suffers from being so "1960s."

Now for grace and aesthetic appeal, I think the rebooted Enterprise has stolen my heart, pushing everyone else down a rung:
  1. Rebooted Enterprise
  2. Movie/First Contact Enterprise (tie)
  3. Enterprise-C (from the TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise")
  4. TOS Enterprise
The less said about the Enterprises -B and -D the better. The former was too "fat"; it looked like the pretty girl's ugly friend (in comparison - from some angles she could look decent). The latter was too wide and suffered from the same gracelessness as its second-generation cousin.

Of the Federation's neighbors', the Klingon D-7 is hands down the best ship in the quadrant, every angle radiating menace and aggressive intent. Back in the day, FASA, the RPG company, produced a series of Romulan ship miniatures that were pretty neat looking - especially their Winged Defender and Bright One classes. They couldn't quite capture the Federation's ship designs, though. And Task Force Games produced a similar series for Star Fleet Battles, which had some interesting designs. In their case, my favorites were the Romulans (esp. the Sparrowhawk), the Lyrans (though I wish they had had more detail) and the Interstellar Concordance.

But back to the Abrams' movie: I mentioned three things that worked for me. The first was the crew - I liked them. Without exception they worked for me. Unfortunately, they were trapped in a story that made no sense.

The second thing that I enjoyed was that Spock was unable to "fix" the timeline. The best he could do was salvage things so that they resembled his future (presumably, the Federation will alert the Romulans about the imminent destruction of their homeworld in the future).

Militarism = parasitism

In a vein related to my WikiLeaks posting, I wanted to opine about a distressing trope I've noticed in the soi-disant liberal talk radio programs I listen to. Further evidence of how the corruption of militarization continues to progress.

It should not have escaped anyone's notice that Congress finally passed a healthcare insurance bill recently. (I deliberately do not use the word "reform" because the systemically disfunctional for-profit, private insurance industry remains firmly in control despite a few cosmetic - if welcome - tweakings along the margins.) It should also have not escaped anyone's notice that many right-wing pundits as well as their low-information audiences have been hysterically throwing around the words "socialist" and "socialism," as if America were only an executive order away from becoming the Soviet Union (or, worse, France).

Often the response of the left-leaning (but still quite moderate) hosts of my shows to callers who complain about Obama's socialist agenda is to mention the military as a prime example of successful socialism. I can only cringe in dismay and rail against the appalling of both caller and hosts. "Socialism" is an economic system where the means of production and the wealth therefrom is controlled by the producers. At a minimum, a socialist-leaning country ensures that its wealth is equitably distributed. A condition unknown in the U.S. since the Reagan administration. Eisenhower and Nixon were better "socialists" than Obama has shown himself to be.

By contrast, a standing army (which the Founders abhorred) is a parasite - it consumes the wealth and returns nothing (sort of like a tribble, and they at least emitted a soothing sound that had a strangely calming effect on...the...human...nervous...system....).

It could be argued that a standing army is necessary in the dangerous world of the 21st century. I would counter that standing armies are a significant factor in making this world so dangerous to begin with (Costa Rica manages to get by without one, why can't anyone else?). But for the moment, let's grant the argument a measure of validity and agree that we need a standing army. It still can't possibly justify a near-trillion-dollar war budget ($700B+, about $500B for the Pentagon plus some gravy for related ministries [Homeland Security, Energy, etc.]). And the means of production and wealth produced are most definitely not in the hands of the producers.

In a body, parasites can be tolerated as long as they don't threaten that body with death. Healthcare, economic stimulus, education, crumbling infrastructure, and all the other problems facing this nation are never going to be resolved without defunding the legions and reining in the military-industrial complex (if you want to see just how out of control things have become, read this TomDispatch).

Unfortunately, humans being humans and, as a group, a bit dull witted, it's unlikely anything short of utter economic collapse is going to stop our march to "victory" around the world.

Addendum: Speaking of the cost of the military parasite, check out the latest blog from TomDispatch.

America's Army - Now we know what those video games are for

In case you've missed it, here's the link to, where you can watch the U.S. Army's own footage of the murder of Iraqi civilians by "our boys." (Don't worry, the gunship's camera is too far away to detail anything graphic so it's a PG-13 on the rating scale.)

Anyone who has followed these infrequent posts knows my attitude toward the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, and to the military in general, so I'm not going to belabor the point beyond observing, sadly, the utter disregard for the lives these "patriots" are stealing displayed on this tape. (Catch the crack about bringing kids into a war zone or the mirth when a tank driver runs over one of the Iraqis. Do we even need to mention the firing on the van that was picking up wounded?)

This joins the myriad examples of the bankruptcy of the "war on terror" and our campaign to bring "democracy" to the Middle East.

And, please, don't tell me these men were in immediate fear of their lives. There was no "fog of war," no justification for firing weapons on a group of men openly gathering in the middle of a public square. If that's the quality of the insurgents, then why haven't we quashed them?

If we're incapable of prosecuting our war criminals for the crimes they've committed (are committing), at the very least can't we prosecute the military leadership displayed here for gross incompetence?

Taxes - Why do I owe any?

It took me close to two months to install it but I finally did - the 2009 TurboTax edition.

It confirmed what I suspected all along - According to the IRS, I owed taxes on my 2009 income. Not a huge amount. I'm not going to be sharing the food bowl with the cats, and I can still indulge in Trader Joe's chocolate peanut butter cups.

I can't help but wonder why, though?

Why is it that I, a single man with no outstanding debts nor dependents (beyond the cats), who made less than $50,000 last year, owed money to the feds while ExxonMobil, a company whose profits would make many developed nations envious to say nothing of third-world countries, paid zilch, zero, nil, nada, less than bupkiss?

I can't come up with anything moral or legal. (Well, maybe it was all licit but it certainly wasn't moral.)

Massey Coal and the need for a new Labor movement

The saddest thing about the Massey Coal catastrophe last week (beyond the personal tragedies of the 29 families who lost husbands, sons, cousins, etc.) is the apathetic response I heard while listening today to an interview with one of the widows.

She was responding to the inevitable question about what she was going to do next and replied that she would pray to God that no more accidents happen and that others wouldn't be killed if they did.


She's going to get down on her knees and pray that God doesn't allow any more accidents to happen?

She's not going to organize with her fellow workers and mine families to demand decent wages and safer working conditions from a company whose management has clearly made the calculation that it's cheaper to weather the occasional accident and fines?

I hope that some miner or a surviving relative is inspired to start an organizing campaign, and make it in Massey's interest to give a damn about its workers.

If nothing else, maybe we can look into charging Massey with manslaughter - after all the SCOTUS says corporations are people (and here we thought it was soylent green all these years).

08 February 2010

Bwahahaha - I'll replace their "midnight movies" with 1/2-hour long commercials about hair tonic...d'oh!

I loathe sports, at least watching them. I have a fondness for volleyball that may stem from the fact that it's the one sport I'm half-way decent at (or was - haven't played it in a long time) but even that doesn't extend to watching it. So, it will come as no surprise that this Sunday (Feb. 7) I was not glued to a TV screen watching the Super Bowl.

Instead I spent part of Super Bowl Sunday watching an episode of the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show - the one where Boris is trying to get the secret rocket-fuel formula out of Bullwinkle so he can conquer the Moon Men. There's one point in the show when our heroes are prisoners in Potsylvania, and Boris is explaining to Fearless Leader his plans for bringing America to its knees: He's going to use the rocket fuel to land on the Moon, conquer the Moon Men and then beam back to Earth 1/2-hour haircream commercials in place of America's late-night movie offerings.

Oh, how prescient he was...

01 February 2010

Why we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan

I quote from the Jan. 28 Tomgram from Anand Gopal:

An officer who has worked in the Field Detention Sites says that it takes dozens of raids to turn up a useful suspect. “Sometimes you’ve got to bust down doors. Sometimes you’ve got to twist arms. You have to cast a wide net, but when you get the right person it makes all the difference.”

For [Rodrigo] Arias, [a Marine based in the northeastern province of Kunar], it’s a matter of survival. “I want to go home in one piece. If that means rounding people up, then round them up.” To question this, he says, is to question whether the war itself is worth fighting. “That’s not my job. The people in Washington can figure that out.”

The first quote illustrates at the macro level why we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second shows how we failed at the micro level. Not only has Arias been successfully conditioned to see everyone as the enemy but he's also a poster child for 30 years of Civics-less education.

"That's not my job"?! - As an American citizen that's exactly your job, Mr. Arias!

18 January 2010

Movie Review: The Corpse Grinders

I like the B-grade horror film genre and I love cats (see this post) so when I read the blurb on Netflix about The Corpse Grinders I knew I had to put it in my queue:

In an effort to cut costs, an unscrupulous cat food company buys a supply of
human corpses and grinds them into seemingly harmless chow for kitties. But they
didn't count on the felines suffering a serious side effect: A craving for human
flesh. When cats consume the food, they start attacking their owners in this
campy horror classic from noted "schlock" director Ted V. Mikels.

Going into an experience like this the viewer expects a piece of crap but he hopes for an entertainingly bad piece of crap. In this case, there was enough to make it "so bad it was OK" but not "good" - mainly because of the pacing. It was boring despite egregiously bad writing, acting and continuity. I swear that half of these schlock-fests would be twice as good if their producers had any notion of timing. There's also an almost complete lack of gore or cat presence at all; Mikels did nothing with the possibilities of cats turning on their owners.

The movie opens promisingly: It's a rainy night and a cat is meowing to get inside. Cut to the interior where a 20-something couple watches TV. It's obvious that they're waiting each other out until one breaks down and lets the cat in. Finally, the woman goes to the door, and the cat leaps on her throat. (You assume it leaps, actually; the editor cuts from woman looking out into dark to woman with cat on throat.) The husband rushes to her aid, pulls the cat off and then throws it into the house! Not outside (which he is facing) but inside - turning around and throwing it into the house.

Then we cut to the opening credits.

This is the first of only four cat attacks in the entire film. Of these four, only one is going to be fatal and that's the nearly homeless woman whose throat is torn out while she's sleeping.

After the credits we meet the ... gravedigger? It's hard to tell what this guy's job is but he is the source of our villains' corpses. He reminds me a bit of Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate - same hairstyle but he doesn't have the limp. He's married to a harridan who carries around a doll that she treats like a living person, talking to it and seating it at the dinner table to feed it soup. There's no explanation for this behavior and, more significantly, it plays utterly no role in the story. An attempt to establish character? Who knows but it's never mined for any meaning.

Not that the bit parts need much in the way of added quirkiness. The pet-food company goes out of its way to hire decidedly odd people. I suppose because they'll overlook a lot to keep their jobs. We now meet our villains - Landau, the "mastermind" behind this diabolical plot, and Mawpy (spelling?), his dull-witted, moderately necrophiliac partner. In another attempt to establish Landau's bona fides there's a running scene between him and Caleb (the gravedigger) where Caleb keeps asking Landau when he's going to get what's coming to him, and Landau keeps telling him to wait and he'll get exactly what's coming to him, in a snide, unctuous voice that telescopes exactly what you know is going to happen eventually. These would have been prime scenes for heckling on MST3 or Rifftraks.

Having met our villains, we now get to meet our (sigh) heroes, and we get cat-attack number two. Our heroes are a nurse and her doctor boyfriend (whose names I've already forgotten). There's a scene which establishes the nurse's love for her man and the doctor's compassion. She consoles him on the recent death of a patient and he utters, "Every time I lose one, I lose a part of myself." Two minutes later he's trying to get a quickie before she has to go back on duty.

Oh, yeah, the cat attack. For some reason, it's OK for this nurse to bring her cat to the hospital. The cat, whose name is Happy Sack or Hockey Socks, or something, attacks the doctor, scratching him on the chin (maybe, you never see any wound - ever - not even a bandage). And then he (the cat) disappears from the movie. Mind you, he's not killed, he just ... disappears.

The film moves on, albeit slowly. Cat attack number three and the only one that approaches the gore potential that any reasonable B-movie director would be exploiting happens. (And by "approach," I mean as a plane cruising at 35,000 feet over Kansas.) I've mentioned this scene - the poor, sleeping woman whose cat, after eating a can of food, bites her throat. Another near-homeless person hears the commotion, discovers the body and throws the cat against the wall. This scene is less traumatic for cat lovers than you might expect (or maybe you do, considering what I've said so far) - you don't see the cat, just the old man swinging around like he's throwing something, a yowl and a crashing sound. And that's the only cat who buys the farm in the entire film!!

Apparently this town is too small to have a real coroner (or vet) because the old guy brings both bodies to our heroes' clinic. After performing a necropsy, the doctor thinks there may be something wrong with what the cat ate. How he determines this is unclear as the most advanced piece of lab equipment visible is a slide microscope that would put even the most underfunded inner-city high school to shame. But the clinic is astonishingly well equipped in books about feline behavior - he pulls a one which explains exactly how felines behave when they've eaten human flesh from the shelf!

Our heroes decide to take their evidence (sic) to the Food Adulteration Agency (the FAA?), where we meet the 4th victim of these vicious feline maulings - the sexy secretary of the FAA agent. She goes home early: At home, she strips down to bra and panties, gets a beer out of the fridge and then seductively reclines on her couch to watch TV. Her cat, fresh from a corpse-tainted repast, leaps for her jugular (OK - you know the routine, due to editing, you assume he leaps for her throat because that's where he is in the next shot). We then cut to the next scene, though we do learn that she survives in a later bit of dialog.

Meanwhile, at the FAA office, our intrepid duo are getting the runaround from our government bureaucrat (who has no qualms about giving them presumably private information about applicants to open pet-food plants), and they go off to get to the bottom of things all on their own.

My virtual pen grows weary, and I can't justify giving this film more consideration so I'll only mention the scene where Landau has tied our nurse to the conveyor belt of the corpse grinder and laughs maniacally, saying that "No one can stop me now!" Or the scene where a detective, who has only been seen lurking in the background of some scenes taking notes, bursts in and shoots Landau dead. Or the final shot, where some cats who hang around the plant are seen crawling over Landau's body as it lays face down on the ground. Or one of the more glaring continuity problems I've ever seen in a film: Our nurse gets dressed (another opportunity for some gratuitous T&A) in a gold outfit; cut to next scene and she's in a red outfit; cut to the following scene and she's back in the gold; and in the final cut, she's wearing a blue blouse and black mini-skirt!

I followed this with a much better B-grade flick - Hide and Creep - a nice little indie zombie movie with a reasonably humorous script and decent acting. If you're in the mood to pretend you're Joel, Servo and Crow on the Satellite of Love, rent The Corpse Grinders; if you're looking to enjoy a little escapism with an otherwise forgettable film, go with Hide and Creep.

03 January 2010

Book Reviews - End of the Year Roundup

It's the end of a year, the end of a decade, that most of us would prefer to forget but there were bright moments here and there, and amid the world of reading these were some of them (IMO). (Most, if not all, of these books got some sort of review at my GoodReads blog, which can be referred to for more details.)

Actually, I'm going to start off with the pans, or pan in this case, as I only read one book that I would categorically not recommend to anyone:

The Outback Stars, Sandra MacDonald. A disappointing novel about a future interstellar civilization heavily influenced by Australian/Aborigine culture. Way too much exposition about the in-fighting among the ship's laundry.

Now to the raves. These are in chronological order of reading and their position in no way indicates the subtleties of preference.

Things I've Been Silent About, Azar Nafisi. This is the second memoir from this Iranian ex-pat professor. Here, she focuses on her childhood and her relationships with her parents and other family. It's an interesting window on a particular segment of Iranian society, and by no means a "complete" picture but that doesn't detract from its power.

Manservant and Maidservant, Pastors and Masters, A House and Its Head, Parents and Children, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The last three books I read later in the year but as they're all by the same author.... I can't sing the praises of Ms. Compton-Burnett enough. Her brand of acerbic, black humor appeals enormously to me.

Lincoln, David Donald. Very accessible and well written biography of our greatest president.

Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire. One of the more serendipitous discoveries of the year. The translation I have is by James McGowan (w/ parallel French text). The only complaint I have is that it's missing a poem, "The Peace Pipe," even though there's a note that refers to it.

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, Daniel Mendelsohn. Collection of the author's book, film & theater reviews. Simply brilliant, and I'm only sorry I delayed reading it for as long as I did.

Augustine: A New Biography, James O'Donnell. O'Donnell focuses on the man and his time rather than his actual writing so the book can't be characterized as "definitive" or "comprehensive" but it's a fascinating deconstruction of one of Christianity's most forceful intellects and his times.

Dust of Dreams, Steven Erikson. Book 9 in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I'm sure I've mentioned previous volumes in earlier posts but it bears repeating that this is one of the greatest epic fantasy series in the last 50 years. In my opinion, it leaves Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time or George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series far distant also-rans.

Whit, Iain Banks. Written in the mid-'90s, this is one of Banks' nongenre novels, and also fun to read.

Honorable mentions and books of note:

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, R. Crumb. I enjoyed the graphic-novel version of the first book of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Crumb brings the stories to life and even makes the notorious "begat" sections seem interesting with a variety of subtle touchs.

The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells. I remember seeing the 1936 version with Raymond Massey as a child on PBS, and recently rewatched it via Netflix. The book is far different and doesn't succeed at all as a novel. As a rumination on what's wrong with modern, capitalist society and a possible solution, it offers a lot of food for thought (some of it disturbing - Wells could be quite fascistic in his proscriptions).