Category Archives: culture

The message of Star Trek Beyond


Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us.  First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer.  Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes.  Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No.  If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?

My answer takes the form of a postulated question.  Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?

SPOILER ALERT GALORE

ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man.  You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula.  My complements to the script makers.  There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office.  With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?

And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee!  Talk about going postal.  And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination.  Can you say spider and bee fetish?  His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs.  The product here is not honey but hate.  His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.

Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation.  When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman.  What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways.  It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues.  Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear.  Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity.  He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space.  He was left behind.  Forgotten.  Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service.  As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.

The direct line conclusion from the path  laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way.  The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.

I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.

The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra.  Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.

The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions.  Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement.  The subject of his failure: purpose.  Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end.  Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.

The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation.  Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun.  The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.

McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters.  When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.

This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers.  There is nothing new here.  That is the basis for my grade of C.  Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it.  I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology.  The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality.  Are we ready to face global warming?

So I salute Star Trek Beyond.  Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history.  As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.

WRITEAHOUSE.ORG

Both sides of my family migrated to Detroit in the first half of the 20th Century.  Both of my parents were born there.  It is the place where our history, our culture, our collective memory, the proof of our existence to the physical world emanates from.  Some have left, many have died.  Others have remained to witness the horror, the transformation of a great community.

There are newcomers, such as Liana, who’s home is here because of Write A House. Here is her blog about her experience in Detroit.

 

I now do most of my writing from an upstairs room that overlooks most of my street. The room is stark, with freshly painted white walls (Thanks Write A House crew), a wooden desk and an aluminum folding chair. I’ve kept it bare to minimize distraction and maximize output. I am easily distracted. I lose focus. I am not one of those writers who can write comfortably anywhere, at any time. To get a place of pure, magical focus and creativity, I have to expend so much energy. But even a minimally decorated, quiet room has not stopped my mind from wandering elsewhere.

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Source: WRITEAHOUSE.ORG

One Child, One Classroom, One Community: Why Influencing a Culture of Reading Could Help Solve the Global Education Crisis – Room to Read Blog

“When children are surrounded by a culture that values and celebrates literacy, there is a greater chance that they will develop a habit and love of reading.”

 by Dr. Cory Heyman

This week, I am participating in the 60th annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference, an event that fosters discourse and debate within the international education community about solving the world’s education challenges. I undoubtedly know that we will spend much time listening to novel and innovative ideas presented in research and best practices that focus on the child such as educator-child interactions — and there will be many more crucial topics to ensuring high quality educational opportunities are provided to deserving children around the world.

 

Source: One Child, One Classroom, One Community: Why Influencing a Culture of Reading Could Help Solve the Global Education Crisis – Room to Read Blog

Why The Dark Knight is to blame for our current political quagmire.

It’s been 8 years since the epic Detective Comics based mega motion picture exploded into neighborhoods across this great land.  Hardly seems like it.  Yet the damage wrought by the creative carnage has spread like a malignant tumor into the very fabric of the American ethos. Spread to the degree that our political system sits precariously now, perched over a terminally ill cliff, with a diagnosis of death by self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Let me explain.  When popular culture crowns a product with a tiara of success, it generally conveys some level of artistic achievement that transcends genre.  Our addictive obsession with film and the cult of stardom which parasitically attaches to it pay homage to the idea that is espoused with the cliché ‘life imitates art’.  So when $1 billion is earned in box office revenue alone, not to mention DVD/Blu-Ray and merchandising, consider that more clue than hint.  When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences changes its award eligibility criteria, take that as more coronation than concession.  Multitudes of fanboys attending multiple theater viewings aside, both dinner debates in the homes of moguls and agent provocateurs, along with power lunches turned hushed lecture sessions in see and be seen west side eateries, speak to the level of penetration Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s experiment had into the collective consciousness of Americana.

Hyperbole!  You say.  Allow me to add wax.  What we have here is not a failure to communicate.  Our society has done nothing less than exemplify a failure to educate, to motivate, to compete, to shake loose the bourgeois trappings of prosperity a priori obesity, to care enough about each other, our children and ourselves.  And, for lack of a better phrase, to thrive.  As a result our institutions begin to topple.  Schools, private industry, the Congress, the White House, and SCOTUS, all frayed at the edges.  Forget about apple pie.  What happened to the foundation of our democrapitalism, organized labor?  Ask a millennial to define pension.  Don’t panic when you get a description of Orange is the New Black.  Symptoms.  Gotham City, USA has never looked so bad.  There isn’t anyone left that matters apparently, who can compare current events with the 1930s or the 1860s.  Are the recent 60s and 70s now thought of as the good old days?  Great revisionist history, Batman!

Back to the Caped Crusader, as you were.   Consider Bruce Wayne, with power nonpareil – as masked and armed – and financed the same.  Does that bring to mind President Barack Obama?  Then compare how our public is led to scorn the vigilante when he dares use his assets to do battle for the home team.  Why, some want him prosecuted!  Our hero.  Don’t they realize his intentions are to act in the best interests of those he would protect?  Metaphorically going halfway across the globe to rein in Wall Street villains in the persona of mob bagman Lau, he is thwarted by bosses Gambol, Sal Maroni, and the Chechen, when they take a contract out on him with The Joker himself, who we’ll call ISIS for arguments sake.  Gambol aka public education, Maroni aka an intransigent Congress, and the Chechen aka the exodus of middle class wage careers, conspire against him to attack his Achilles heel, foreign policy.

While his attention is diverted by an old flame Rachel Dawes, none other than Hillary Clinton, he’s hit with one sucker punch after another; Benghazi, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Israel, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations with Iran.  But who can blame him?  Rachel has a new rival for her attention, Harvey, the real Donald J. Trump, Dent.  He is the savior.  The man with a plan.  So easy, so easy, so easy, let me tell you.  So quick, so quick, so quick.  The Great White Hope, riding in on his white horse, is a stark contrast to our Black Knight.  AND light minded PEOPLE BELIEVE HIM.  Why he’s the legitimate offspring of E. F. Hutton and the most interesting man in the world.

But he’s not alone.  Championing his cause as the true blue representative of the people is Coleman Reese, who follows the Joker’s lead and attempts to expose Batman for the fraud he is, not addressing the fact that we never learn anything about our Joker other than what he cares to share in his fable-like musings. Stunt doubles for Reese include the Sean Hannity lead Fox News Network, backed by the understudies Limbaugh and Coulter et al.

Smack in the middle of this standoff is The RNC or Gotham PD, helmed by Commissioner Gordon – Reince Priebus.  Forced to carry the torch for Dent, Gordon, surrounded by corruption within the ranks, falls on his sword to save the convention ceremony and takes a bullet for the cause.  Laid up, he is helpless to prevent Dent from revealing his two-faced nature long hidden beneath the surface.  A latent xenophobic tendency which The Joker exposes with every hospital bombing and nightclub massacre.   Yet Gordon’s fate is sealed when he makes a deal with the devil to perpetuate a lie so that the public is convinced of Dent’s integrity.  Dent can’t be a fraud.  Everyone knows the Batman is to blame.  Don’t they?

In the end the Joker is defeated, and declared the loser.  Or is he?  At what cost to society was this victory purchased?  Has the interim damage opened such a crack in the foundation that constructors will be forced to start over with new blueprints?  Check back in November for the next episode titled: Doctor Strange.  Pray to God that this time art imitates life.

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The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J.R. Gavin leads me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. At first I mistook him for a preacher, but he’s a retired electronic engineer who writes self-published novels about the rapture and apocalypse. One of them is titled Sal Batree, after the place he wants to show me.I’m here in Jones County, Mississippi, to breathe in the historical vapors left by Newton Knight, a poor white farmer who led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War. With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union.In the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. This little-known, counter-intuitive episode in American history has now been brought to the screen in Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring a grimy, scruffed-up Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.Knight and his men, says Gavin, hooking away an enormous spider web with his staff and warning me to be careful of snakes, “had a number of different hide-outs. The old folks call this one Sal Batree. Sal was the name of Newt’s shotgun, and originally it was Sal’s Battery, but it got corrupted over the years.”

Source: The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

Divert the mainstream.

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So the Wired culture column Wired didn’t want to publish? I’m taking it elsewhere. Right now, it’s not a question of whether the column would have a home, but where. That’s a great thing.

But Wired, being Wired, had money. Most of the places offering to host the column can’t pay the rate that Wired could. But writing is how I make a living, and I already do plenty of it for free. So to make the column good, I have to make enough money to justify the time I devote to it.

So here’s my deal with you:

(1) A professional rate would be $500 for 1000 words. Patreon takes 5% and credit card and transfer fees add up to around another 5%. So if we reach $550 per column, I launch the column.

(2) For a year, I promise no less than one column a…

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Race Points

Happy Juneteenth Holiday.  In honor of Juneteenth, I have penned a piece on race relations.  If you are not familiar with the holiday, I encourage you to find out more about it and celebrate what it represents.

You Don’t Like Me Cause I’m White? Really?

Holdin’ Out for a (Nonwhite) (Funny) (Fictional) Hero

White Rage, the Hunger Games, and the Lack of Justice

WHAT MY BIKE HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHITE PRIVILEGE

In the wake of Ferguson…

The above titles represent links that are just a (recommended) sampling of articles written on race in recent months. Some have influenced me to weigh in on the topic. Certainly there is room for one more opinion.

The question I want to address is can we make things better? In short, yes. We should make things better because lives depend on it. I will assert that segregation is the barrier that prevents progress. It is a regret of history that close to 70% of the majority population has separated itself almost completely from little more than a 10% minority, abandoning the great urban Americana to ruin in the process. Whole cities and major regions of many large metropolitan communities exist in a state of blight and despair due to the economic discrimination perpetrated by this phenomenon and the poverty that inflicts them.

But economic, social and educational disparity are not the products of segregation that I want to address in this commentary. What segregation breeds, above all else, is fear. Fear breeds, among other things, distrust. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson involved many things, including the fact that the officer saw him as a threat (unarmed). The investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has shown very clearly that from the very first moment Zimmerman saw Martin he was suspicious of him. Need I go on? Any poll will confirm the undeniable divide between the perceptions of large groups of whites and blacks in America. Ferguson. Obama. O.J. Simpson. Martin Luther King Jr. Why? In a word, segregation.

I want to share two examples from my experience as a police officer in Los Angeles. I think they provide a micro perspective that supports a macro consensus. For much of my life I lived as a black in the white community. One byproduct of that experience I believe is that I have a familiarity with white culture and mores to the extent that I feel comfortable (translate unafraid) in most areas of white society. With that said, I offer to you example #1.

When working with many white officers I discovered that there was a lack of ability on their part to distinguish between blacks we came in contact with. Because most of the areas we patrolled were in segregated neighborhoods, the officers seemed to treat all blacks in those places as threats. I did notice that some officers would be able to make minor distinctions after questioning people we spoke to. I formed the premise that the white officers did not have a frame of reference, because they didn’t have personal experience with blacks, to see them as anything but a threat until proven otherwise. We worked in high crime areas with high levels of violence. Most of the residents were black.

Did I have the same perception? No. Why not? I will not attempt to give you the long answer. The short answer is that I have lived in segregated black neighborhoods. Is it a science? Can I prove it? Does that make it any less true? It is too obvious to me that most people in black neighborhoods are like most people in any other neighborhood. I have lived in both. This is my firsthand experience. If only it were that simple. There is something else that I learned. White officers that I worked with, in general, were much better than I was at ferreting out white criminals we ran across. More often than not I did not see what they saw. I would have sent these subjects on their way none the wiser. So much for my culturalization.

Example #2 involves covert racism. My training took place in an area of Los Angeles uniquely segregated into predominantly hispanic and white neighborhoods, where small patches were densely populated with blacks. One of my white training officers worked exclusively in the hispanic area, never working in the white area. His reason given was so he could be where the crime was. I found out much later that his true reason for working that beat was so that he would never have to enforce the law on a white person.

I never suspected that he had a problem with blacks in general or me specifically. And that almost cost me my job. One night we went on a domestic violence call which he handled. This was a surprise to me because as a rookie I was supposed to write all reports. I watched as he spent close to an hour telling the family to use mediation to workout their marital issues. We cleared the call. I would have spent 15 minutes on the same call and taken a report. I had thought that he spent too much time trying to (kiss off) get out of work that would have taken less time to actually do. I also thought that since he was the training officer that I had something to learn from him. He passed me on to another training officer who worked in the white neighborhood.

The next domestic violence call was with the new training officer, and I handled it. After I advised the couple on mediation, which had been explained to us during briefing training, my training officer took over the call and wrote a report. That night he wrote me a scathing evaluation that essentially accused me of neglecting my duty. I never made that mistake again. I do not remember how I found out but it was revealed to me later that the two training officers were very close. I had been set up.

To me what was important was the reason why those men would have thoughts and opinions about me, about anyone who looked like me for that matter, which would motivate them to create elaborate schemes to get me fired from LAPD. Having fewer black officers is not the solution. I know that I didn’t have adverse thoughts about them or about anybody who looked different from me. I still don’t. Nor do I think that segregation is the root cause of what motivated them. But those men cannot be the majority. I refuse to believe that. My experience tells me otherwise. And it is segregation that stands between us and the majority, whose opinion and influence will protect against the actions of those like my two training officers.

Don’t you agree?