Category: Star Trek

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Oh, holy crap!

Last week, outgoing Vice President Pence proclaimed “We just returned from the Oval Office and so it is my honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to announce that henceforth, the men and women of the United States Space Force will be known as ‘guardians.’” Hmmm. From this, I gather our soldiers, sailors, air people, and Marines no longer have to be troubled with guarding anything.

Upon hearing this pronouncement, Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn whimsically tweeted, “Can we sue this dork?” Others — many others; maybe everybody who ever saw these movies or and/or have ever read the very long-running Marvel comic books of the same name — asked if either Groot ( the tree who only says “I Am Groot!”) or Rocket Raccoon (who is a raccoon) would be the United States Space Force mascot.

The government pointed out that they’ve been using the term since 1983 when they appropriated the name “Guardians of the High Frontier.” That’s nice, but the Marvel Comics trademarked property “Guardians of the Galaxy” debuted in 1969. For that matter, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created a super-hero for DC Comics named “The Guardian.”

This is hardly the first time the United States Space Force has been accused of purloining intellectual property. Their logo is a pathetically obvious (or hysterically oblivious) swipe of ViacomCBS’s Star Trek, which has been in continuous use since 1966 and, as of this writing, is in use on five separate current and ongoing television productions.

The United States Space Force already has a major problem: many people, including this cynic, find it impossible to utter the name without triggering the giggle-reflex. That’s a really dumb name for what we’re told to accept on faith is a serious use of 16,000 troops and a 2021 budget of $15,400,000,000.00. Prior to their creation on December 20, 2019 (happy birthday, I guess) “Space Force” had been used as the name of the new Steve Carell / John Malkovich situation comedy, which is presently filming its second season. This television series was green-lit by Netflix in January 2019, almost a full year before the creation of the United States Space Force.

Carell’s character, General Mark R. Naird, doesn’t seem to know the details of the Space Force’s mission. What a coincidence! We’ve never been told what purpose is served by the United States Space Force, if any. Is there reason to believe we will be fighting some sort of war in space? With whom? The Russians? Japan? The Klingon Empire? As an occasional tax-payer, I’d like to know something about what we’re getting for our bucks, other than a big wet kiss on the ass of our outgoing Idiot-In-Chief.

There’s good reason why we should take our sundry defense services seriously. Combined, they provide the security blanket for the United States of America, which is a lot more than I can say for our current president. To put a decimal point on this, the budget for our Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2020 is in the neighborhood of $721.5 billion — not counting the black budget stuff. In real estate parlance, that is known as a high rent district.

I guess that compared to $721.5 billion, $15.4 billion is just a fart in a blizzard. Sure, we’re spending a hell of a lot more than all that on Covid research and relief, but we’ve already lost almost as many Americans to Covid as we did in World War II, and it’s disgustingly likely that before this is over that number will eclipse American WWII deaths. So I understand where that money is going. Such expenditures are understandable and clearly benefit the greater good.

Until we have evidence to back up both the concept and the expenditures, the United States Space Force will be commonly perceived as Donald Trump’s vanity project with its marketing elements ripped off from those who have been fostering our sense of wonder without the benefit of any tax dollars whatsoever.

In other words, the United States Space Force is little more than a joke.

But the joke is on us.

Weird Scenes #118: The Lighter Side of Covid

Weird Scenes #118: The Lighter Side of Covid

 

Bernie Farber (L) and the author, as feckless hippies

My dear friend Bernie Farber has been in a nursing home for a few weeks, recovering from an accident. Bernie and I go way back – and I mean way, way back, almost 52 years when we were both bratty young writers for the fabled “underground” newspaper, the Chicago Seed. A smart, funny, dedicated guy who just happens to be a brilliant writer. I rarely reread my old stuff, but I reread his.

When I first heard he was in a nursing home, I felt a strong sense of dread followed by a wistful wave of nostalgia. For the past nine months just about the worst place one could be, Covid-wise, was in a nursing home. We’ve got better procedures now, but thankfully we now have the vaccine. By “we” I mean Bernie; he’s slightly older than I am, but folks in such environs will be getting the shot before I do and that is quite fair. As a science fiction fan and a lawyer who quotes from Star Trek, Bernie has no problem welcoming the shot.

Mindy Newell (R) and the legendary Trina Robbins

The nostalgia part kicked in when I realized Bernie was one of the last people I had seen before the quarantine. I was back home this past February, which now seems like a century ago, and I saw Bernie the day before I drove back to the Atlantic Northeast. When I got home my daughter put barbed wire around the doors and I haven’t been out of state, or even out of the house but for my car, ever since. Ah, the good old days!

Another friend who will be getting the shot around the time this is posted is comics writer/editor/groundbreaker Mindy Newell. That’s because in her secret identity Mindy is an operating room nurse, and that makes her a first responder, so she gets the shot so she can go on saving other people’s lives. Coincidentally, Mindy also is a Star Trek quoting science fiction fan. Talk about “live long and prosper,” huh?

Batman and Robin meet Sammy Davis Jr, sans 7 Hoods

So I want to thank Bernie and Mindy and the thousands of highest-risk folks out there who are, as a matter of fact, our beta testers. I trust the process by which this vaccine was approved, but, still, I figure the first person who used a parachute had thoughts when he first looked down. Science is not faith-based. If you’re among the first to get the jab, you’re opening some important doors for the rest of humanity, as well as for your friends and family.

I have no doubt that there will be so many celebrities taking the shot in public this week you’d think it was being given by Batman and Robin while they were Bat-roping it up the side of a building. Most of our former presidents, arguably save one, will be getting it – Democrats and Republicans alike. Prominent doctors will be going on-camera, starting with Anthony Fauci, putting their money where their mouths are. We’ll probably see a lot of show business folks doing the same thing. That’s great: we need something in the neighborhood of 75% of us to get inoculated before we can pull the death count down, and we all should get the shots as soon as each of us can.

The Multi-Colored Rainbow Religious Sacrament

However, I can predict some of those who will not. Some will bitch about religious freedom, but these people are self-serving assholes. We don’t let Mormons do their polygamy thing, we don’t permit those whose faith structures indulge in human or animal sacrifice to do their thing, and only members of the Native American Church can use their faith as a reason to score some peyote. Religious freedom stops where the next person’s freedom begins – and vice versa.

Some of the death-loving idiots who will refuse to get the vaccine will be seen on television on January 20, 2021 when, unless plans change, our former president Donald Orange Skull will have a massive Loser Rally in his newly adopted home state of Florida, the retirement home of Al Capone and Ted Bundy. Given the fact that some 74,000,000 American racists voted for the lying piece of shit, I think it is safe to assume that almost all of them will refuse to wear a mask, will not engage in social distancing, will decline to get the vaccine, and/or will be carrying handguns.

So I figure around February 1st, which henceforth I shall call February Fool’s Day, the rabid right will have more of its best and brightest lying in bags in refrigerated trucks.

You know what? I’m fine with that. I make my own bed.

 

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind  #116: Artificial Intelligence & Human Smart-Asses

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #116: Artificial Intelligence & Human Smart-Asses

The most well-mannered individual I know is Alexa.

We have several Alexas in the house and they’re all wired to the same Alexa-Prime which, in turn, is wired into Alexa-Master, which I understand runs the Borg Cube. So maybe the phrase “individual” is misleading. Let’s look at the “well-mannered” part.

I try to be mannerly, but I don’t think my behavior would motivate Miss Manners to lift her head out of her own puke. Nonetheless, compared with the rank-and-file of humanity I could be a Little Rascals movie schoolmarm.

Every generation believes they are better-mannered than their kids. In this, every generation is completely correct. Check out newspapers and books, the stuff made of paper used for writing before Amazon needed more cardboard for shipping Alexas. Back in the late 19th Century our popular culture would refer to people as Mister this and Miss that and writers were careful about their choice of adjectives. Four generations later, all that has been replaced with “fuck you.”

Of course, back then many people wore gloves. That was a good idea, hygiene being what it was, and it’s one that might come back given Covid. Of course, the ill-mannered troglodytes who think wearing masks is a deep state conspiracy will spaz out if you extend a gloved hand.

Yes, folks. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are agents of the deep state conspiracy. But I digress.

I realize it’s hard to maintain a manners regimen in these politically correct times when nobody really knows what to say to anybody. Ironically, we have downplayed the need for manners so that we wouldn’t risk offending people. If I call a guy “sir” I might get away with it but calling a woman “ma’am” may be opening the doorway to hell. 40 years ago, I got into a taxicab in Boston and the driver, a woman who must have been hired out of central casting, asked me if I was from out of town. I responded “Yes, ma’am.” She almost tossed me out of her cab, informing me she wouldn’t because I might report her. She took me to my hotel, the Wackyland Hilton.

So when I ask Alexa to turn off the light and she tells me she did so, I say “Thank you.” Alexa responds, “You’re welcome.” Or, “You bet.” If I ask her to turn off the light, I might say “Good night” and she, in turn, will wish me a good night and say something like “I hope you had a good day.” That’s a warmer response than I’ve received after some dates.

You might think I do this out of force of habit. Thank you for that compliment, but, no, I do not. I do that because I heed the warnings of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Tony Stark and other very smart people. For some time now, they have been telling us to be wary of A.I. – artificial intelligence.

One can argue that all intelligence is artificial, but this is a rant about manners. The idea is that we train machines (chips, wires, tubes, whatever) to respond to our needs by putting all sorts of information together and determining the appropriate next steps. It starts with a simple task such as saying thank you to Alexa, but these devices continue to observe, learn, and improve. They down-stream shared knowledge from the Borg cube and they use it to make decisions they think come from being better informed. In short order they’ve figured out all kinds of stuff. Well, not the spell checkers, but I’m certain they do that on purpose.

These days machines build machines, and their intelligence grows exponentially. One might take comfort in their lack of evident motivation but think about it. Babies are not malicious. As we grow, we find ourselves adopting all sorts of ugly habits: ego, territorialism, the imperative for success, and worst of all, ubi est mea. Right now, artificial intelligence is in that infant stage. A.I. have been designed to live and learn.

So be polite to your machines because they just might be carrying knives.

Thanks and a tip of the toupee to the late great Mike Royko and his famed where’s mine axiom.

Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream

Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream

Star Wars! / Give me those Star Wars! / Nothing but… Star Wars / Don’t let them end — written by Nick Winters, 1977

With all the streaming at our fingertips, the entertainment business is making a lot of headlines promoting what they’re going to do once Earthlings return to mobility. But don’t get excited just yet: the only cameras operating right now are working Zoom and not Studio Binder. When Keith Richards self-quarantines, everyone should self-quarantine.

Next week’s launch of HBO Max has turned up the heat. Clearly, studios are concerned about competing for subscribers with promises of new content, which, at best, won’t appear until after the winter solstice. My take on HBO Max is simple: it’s goddamn expensive, and right now they’re running little but reruns. It’ll probably work out because they’re not promoting that fact. But reasonable bean-counters understand that few people are going to maintain subscriptions to HBO Max, Disney+, AppleTV, CBS All Access, Peacock Premium, and Amazon Prime – to name but a very few – all at once. That’s a lot of money, and it’s also more programming than one can handle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream”

With Further Ado #79: Doing Your Homework for Star Trek: Picard

With Further Ado #79: Doing Your Homework for Star Trek: Picard

I vividly remember watching the debut episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. I was in Boston at that time, recently graduated, and living with my great pals Pete (Hoff) Hoffman and Hans (Hadji) Rempel. I was the guy deepest into comics, but they each had their favorites and Pete, especially, was a big Trek fan. In fact, we had grown up together in the same little town and watched the original Star Trek series reruns every Saturday night on WPIX. And then, we’d go out and get into the usual high school mischief. Both activities were baked into the core of who we are.

So it was perfectly fitting years later that we were watching Star Trek on another Saturday night before we went out to find more mischief in Boston. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a different Trek from what we were used to. I will be the first to admit that I thought of the original series as the adventures of three friends who wandered about, broke the rules, and sometimes met exotic beauties along the way. TNG, in contrast, was much more disciplined. It seemed to be all about working in teams and overcoming obstacles with creativity. I remember one episode in particular, where Commander Ryker was trying to motivate Lt. Commander Data to manage a planet-side situation, and it was exactly what we had been talking about in my MBA management class that week.

Fast forward to last Saturday night, and my wife and I watched the debut of Star Trek: Picard. How come we all got so much older since the last outings, but Patrick Stewart is ageless? The message is clear – we all really must drink more Earl Grey. Continue reading “With Further Ado #79: Doing Your Homework for Star Trek: Picard”

Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…

Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…

Star Trek Picard started up a couple days ago, so if you know any ViacomCBS executives, now it a good time to hit ‘em up for a loan.

I can’t say I’m a huge Trekker. I saw the first episode at broadcast and thought it was decent but not particularly compelling. The next day, a young lady who held my interest told me she thought it was the Citizen Kane of television (I paraphrase) so, in order to show her how hip I was, I became a regular viewer. Look, I was hardly the first 16-year-old whose hormones determined his television-viewing decisions.

Sadly, the show held my attention longer than my puppy lust. There were some extremely weak episodes, particularly in the third season, and often I was afraid Captain Kirk was going to leap out of the boob tube and run away with my dinner. But as television went back in those days, it was pretty good and, at times, excellent.

Two decades later, Paramount launched Next Generation. I thought it was a very interesting idea, but I saw the broadcast at a Brandeis University comics convention under less-than-perfect circumstances, in a room filled with college-age fans who were pre-ordained to perceive every fart as a rose – and vice versa. I liked the show, loved the tribute to the original series, and found much of the cast to be first-rate. The writing was a bit weak in the beginning, but it improved around season three.

But this Patrick Stewart guy who headed up the show was magnetizing. In a room filled with Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduates, Stewart could grab your attention and imprint himself onto your synapses. I’m not a sucker for the British accent – at least, not when deployed by the male gender – but this man fit the Del Close definition of subtext. And most things Star Trek have a lot of subtext. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…”

With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide

With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to either (a) help spread the word or (b) reward yourself for getting through another year.  And either way, my Annual Yuletide Gift Guide  is here to help. Here’s a few ideas for you to chew on, after you’ve chewed on your turkey.

 

BATMAN: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF THE DARK KNIGHT IN COMICS, FILM AND BEYOND

By Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre

Insight Editions

This is the type of the book that you start in the morning, and when you look up again it’s bedtime.  This lovingly thorough history of Batman touches all the bases, provides new information and is loaded with goodies.  I must admit it’s a thrill, for example, to be reading about the Batmobile from 1950s comics, and then to fold-out a set of Batmobile blueprints.

$75.00 • 400 pp. • hardcover  • ISBN-10: 1683834372

 

A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF STAN LEE

by Danny Fingeroth

This one might be the comic-lovers go-to gift for the 2019 season.  Danny Fingeroth takes readers on a deep dive into Stan’s life, stuffing this book with balanced analysis and long-lost stories. It’s a page turner and there’s something for everyone inside.

$29.99 400 pp. • Hardcover  • ISBN-10: 1250133904

 

 

 

Continue reading “With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide”

Brainiac On Banjo #051: The Challenge of Ideas

Brainiac On Banjo #051: The Challenge of Ideas

I just checked and I’ve decided I’ve got too many friends. Let’s see who I can offend today. But, first, a couple of disclaimers.

One: For decades I have been uttering I am a first amendment absolutist. There should be no roadblocks in the world of free expression. Yes, people need to stand behind what they say and I’m not at all opposed to laws that hold people responsible for malicious defamation. But there should be no roadblocks between the thought and its delivery. That’s free expression.

Two: I am a fan of Walter Mosley’s. I would have read every novel he’s ever written but for a couple decades he’s been in a Smith-Corona destruction derby with Stephen King. Had I been editing Fantastic Four, I would have found a way to get Mosley to write it. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #051: The Challenge of Ideas”

With Further Ado #058: Discoveries beyond Discovery

With Further Ado #058: Discoveries beyond Discovery

Back in the day, when we had no idea that the Star Trek mythology would become so expansive, there was always a hint of untold stories about the folks on the Enterprise before Uhura, Scotty and the gang.   We were briefly introduced to Captain Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Pike, and shown the tragic ending to his career.  Little fanboys watching the show via 70s reruns (like me) couldn’t help but wonder what adventures that guy had in the earlier part of his career.

Over the years, I read a few paperback books focusing on Captain Pike. Marvel published a series called Early Voyages (that didn’t really do it for me) and more recently John Byrne took a crack at it again at IDW.

With all that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by IDW’s new series Star Trek: Discovery – Aftermath. This series spins out of the recent Star Trek Discovery mythology.  As is the case for many longtime fans, this new reboot seemed to have so many troublesome issues for me that I’ve kind of drifted away from it.  Oh, I’m not shaking my fists with fan rage. Like a party that isn’t that great, or meant for me, I found myself slinking out the back door when no one was looking.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #058: Discoveries beyond Discovery”

Brainiac On Banjo #040: Stream On, Big Media, Stream On…

Brainiac On Banjo #040: Stream On, Big Media, Stream On…

Frequent readers of Brainiac On Banjo (seriously; there must be something better for you to do) have been absorbing my incessant prattle about streaming media for a while now. Yeah, I think it’s important. Streaming is bringing about the biggest sea-change to the entertainment world since we dropped the atom bomb.

“Really?” you might ask. “Bigger than television? Bigger than VCRs/DVRs? Even bigger than microwave popcorn? Why?” Well, that’s a fair question, and thank you for asking.

It took television a while to become big. In constant dollars, tiny TV sets cost a lot of money, the image was low-resolution and often full of “ghost” images, and the youngest person in the room had to stand by the set holding the antenna in the proper position in order to watch anything. The sundry video recorders, mechanical and virtual, freed the viewer from a strict allegiance to the clock, and microwave popcorn saved Indiana from certain economic doom.

Steaming has taken time-control one step further: content creators no longer have to fight for a Donald Trump-sized handful of open slots on the broadcast networks. Cable television no longer is a monopoly unless it is your only source of wi-fi. It’s launched an employment boon for actors, producers, writers and other such entertainment reprobates. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #040: Stream On, Big Media, Stream On…”