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Category: Culture

No, Thank You!
It seems to be widely accepted these days that Thanksgiving is the absolute best holiday. The feasting, the uncomplicated, non-religious camaraderie, and of course, the thanking are often cited as the reasons for its superiority. Yeah, well maybe.

Such assessments are relative in nature, of course. Every feast is sure to be accompanied by uncomfortable bloating. The camaraderie can be a bit forced. And the thanking…if it’s such a good thing to do, why aren’t we doing it every day? Now, I certainly don’t want to be ungrateful about Thanksgiving, but if it’s the best we’ve got, then our other holidays can’t really be that special. One has only to look at such unnecessary calendar-stops as Father’s Day to see what I’m talking about. As a self-respecting father, I am embarrassed by this afterthought of a celebration. It took almost 60 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day to get around to officially honoring dear ol’ Dad. Pardon me if I don’t dissolve into tears of joy. And don’t get me started about Christmas.

There is one exception in this parade of underwhelmingness. First, it’s a real day off, unlike most “special” days. Even better, it always falls on the same date, giving it a comforting predictability. There is no guilt or emotional investment of any kind associated with it. It is, in fact, the only purely free day on the calendar.

I speak, my friends, of New Year’s Day. Consider: it’s non-sectarian, it’s universal, and it’s surprisingly humane as holidays go. It might well have been called National Hangover Day, but that condition is not a requirement for its enjoyment. Here (it seems to say) is a completely unstructured day for you, citizen. If you want to plod around in your PJs all day, if you don’t want to answer the phone, if you just want to stay in bed and sleep it off — that’s okay. You don’t have to take part in a feast, interact with your fellow humans, or do anything you don’t feel like doing. Your government understands, and even approves. You don’t even have to go out to the mailbox and collect the mail…because there isn’t any.

In short, there are zero expectations for New Year’s Day. Feel free to sit around and contemplate the year just past. But no pressure. Cast your thoughts to the future, perhaps to examine your place in the cosmos, or to make resolutions…it’s all good. Or just be in the moment, whatever moment you like. Go for it…or don’t. Your call. You could even give thanks if you want to — silently, all by yourself, coiled up in a fetal position.

I almost hesitate to heap praise on New Year’s for fear it might attract too much attention. The last thing I want is for this quiet moment in our lives to be ransacked by commercialization or co-opted by God or loaded up with assumptions about what I am supposed to do. So please take this hint, and leave me alone. For one day, anyway.

Thank you.
Wind Breaking
Okay, my power’s still on. Including my wifi, which tells me that 800,000 of my fellow Californians are currently without power. Mine, they tell me, will be cut off soon. Please pardon me if I stifle a yawn.

To my city friends I say, chill out. This stuff happens all the time up here, and it’s no big deal. So just kick back, pop a brewski, and enjoy this nice bit of quiet time.

And don’t worry. By this time tomorrow, this whole thing will have blown ov
Trying to Stay on Trek
This is a difficult essay for me to write. As a veteran fanboy, I never like to say anything harsh about about the Star Trek franchise.

So I want to be fair. The special effects are great. As to everything else…perhaps the makers of Star Trek: Discovery were just too ambitious in their vision for the show. Not only did they take on a story arc that spanned 14 one-hour episodes (with each episode capable of standing on its own, complete with cliff-hanger), but they also tried to make it work as science fiction and (I must report) overwrought soap opera.

After Season One, I was filled with hope about this new branching of the franchise. In this space I even dared to call it “the best Star Trek ever.” I knew at the time that this was hyperbole. I wanted (too much so, it seems) for the show to succeed, and thereby guarantee a continuing flow of sci-fi for me and my fellow trekkies. I am less hopeful now.

What I saw last year as an edgy new form of “space noir” has degenerated into over-the-top intergalactic melodrama. As with most science fiction, the stakes are the absolute highest they can be: the threatened obliteration of all sentient life in the universe. Somehow, however, that awful possibility plays second fiddle to the leaden family drama between heroine Michael Burnham and the House of Spock. Now, I’m as reverent of sentient life as the next person, but does it really have to involve this level of over-acting and self-absorption?

This high schmaltziness seems to trump everything else in Discovery. The writers (whom I blame for just about everything wrong with Season Two) repeatedly insert characters’ agonized soliloquies about their personal feelings in the middle of universe-in-the-balance action scenes. Each time it happens, I want to reach for my phaser — and it wouldn’t be set to “stun,” either.

Worse, the goofy/cool science concepts are gone. They are replaced by haphazard tech fixes and look-what-I-just-made gizmos that conveniently advance the plot but do nothing to satisfy my need for nifty scientific notions that actually make sense as part of the story. This failing thus undermines my prime rationale for watching science fiction in the first place. Plus, most of the new aliens have been lame this season. That torpedoes my second big rationale — high quality space monsters.

Another complaint: the starship Discovery is not a credible interstellar vehicle. Such ships could arguably afford some extra roominess in the form of the holodecks and extracurricular lounges we’ve seen on some versions of the USS Enterprise. You’d think something like that would be vital in maintaining the crew’s mental health. The Discovery, though, has vast expanses of open space inside it that don’t appear to serve any function other than showing us how big the ship is.

Furthermore, the command structure is a joke. Direct orders from Captain Pike are routinely disobeyed — often multiple times in the same episode. Crew members walk in and out of areas where they do not belong (including admirals’ quarters) just to drop little melodramatic bombs about their personal struggles. Is this any way to run a starship? No — especially if the fate of all sentient life hangs in the balance.

It may be that Discovery’s creators were trying to broaden the appeal of their show. In doing so, however, they have left me stranded on a different timeline with two episodes to go…and hope for a rescue is fading fast. I have been disappointed before by Star Trek reboots. This time, I had hoped that the ambition of the show and the promise of its first season might portend something of the caliber of Game of Thrones. That show took on a lot of the same challenges as Discovery, with dragons and pure fantasy taking the place of nifty science. Thrones succeeded, perhaps, by having one central writer at the helm and a bunch of pre-existing books that had worked out the tricky plotting and character development.

Maybe Episodes 13 and 14 will save me. I have not abandoned all hope. I’m guessing that sentient life will end up surviving, but my chief concern now is that an away team of writers will find my lost timeline and rescue me at last.

Short of that, I will have to wait for next year for help to arrive — maybe in the form of some new storytellers.
Pump Not
May I have everyone’s attention, please? Thank you. I have a small request to make of worldwide human culture.

It’s about the fist pump. I’d like to see it go away completely.

Okay, I know that this gesture has been widely used as a method of celebrating all kinds of victories, large and small. Furthermore, it has come to be seen as an amusing display of good, clean competitive spirit. For that reason, I certainly don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. Sometimes, however, as a service to the public good, I allow myself to become a light drizzle — on your victory march if necessary.

I know these things can take time, so let’s make sure all 8 billion of you know exactly what my request covers. First, it’s not the fist bump. I have no problem with the bumping of fists with another as a means of expressing mutual satisfaction. And I’m not talking about a fist that is simply raised in the air as a sign of victory or other transcendence. Same with a fist held up and waggled in an amusing fashion or a fist thrown as an exaggerated air-punch (a la tiger Woods upon sinking a 40-foot putt). Nor do I have a quarrel with a fist brandished in anger or as a threat. All these usages would be permitted under my ban.

The fist pump I am concerned with involves a very particular pumping action. According to Webster (and me), it is “a celebratory gesture (as by a sports player) in which the fist is raised in front of the body and then quickly and vigorously drawn back.” Webster goes on to report that its first usage in print was in 1981. Other than that, its origins seem to be unknown, but its introduction to broad public awareness might be attributed to Kirk Gibson after his miraculous walk-off homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. As Gibson limped around the bases, he swung his bent right arm again and again with this exaggerated pumping action.

I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t. Apparently, given the widespread usage of the fist pump, the world disagrees. So allow me to make my case for its absolute forbiddance. At the core of my argument — the root, you might say — is the unseemliness of the gesture, especially when used in a repeated fashion. It mimics, to my eye, sexual intercourse. And please, don’t tell me that has never occurred to you. The imagery is obvious: copulation of the most exuberant variety.

Now, I am not a prude. (If you doubt that, I have a large sheaf of documentation here, including photographs, testimonials, and police reports, that you are welcome to look through.) The messaging of fist pumping, however, is unmistakeable. The pumper is saying one of two things: A. what just happened is as good or better than sex, or B. a big “fuck you” to his opponent.

In either case, the gesture is just plain wrong. If you are getting the same feeling out of winning at sports that you get from good sex, then the sex you’ve been having isn’t nearly as good as you think, my friend. And if your gesture is meant as a more demonstrative version of flipping the bird, then you are the most unsportsmanlike of sportsmen.

I hope that I have made myself clear. Fist pumping should never have been accepted as a legitimate form of celebration. It defiles sport and gives sex a bad name. And now that it has metastasized into a global phenomenon, it needs to be removed from our culture like a giant, malignant growth.

I can see by the expressions on your faces that we have unanimous agreement. Thanks for listening and for your prompt attention to this matter.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon