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Category: Culture

Space Noir
SPOILER ALERT: If you are planning to wait until the end of Season One of Star Trek: Discovery, then take advantage of CBS All Access’s one-week free trial, and binge watch all fifteen episodes in a week, then God help you. Be aware also that reading this will ruin your devious little plan.

Star Trek: Discovery, the latest star in the constellation of Star Trek space operas, has boldly gone…well, you know. While the show takes care to adhere to the canon of history laid down by its predecessors, it dares to break new ground on a number of fronts. I am so impressed with this new show, in fact, that I am declaring it the best Star Trek yet.

I do not take this position lightly. Kirk and Spock are written into the deepest level of my cultural DNA. Whenever I've wanted to seek out new life and new civilizations, the Enterprise has always been my starship of choice. And yet, the Discovery beckons. For one thing, it’s snazzier than either Kirk’s NCC-1701 or Picard’s NCC-1701-D and E — even though it pre-dates those starships. That is not a complaint. While this new Star Trek series has gone backward ten years into the original’s past, my personal timeline has continued to move forward. During that time my expectations regarding production values have matured along with me. Consequently, I'm willing to overlook this break in continuity.

The aliens are also better, especially the Klingons. If you are any kind of trekkie at all, you are aware that the Klingon look has undergone an odd evolution over the years. They’ve always looked bony and angry, but this purple, hairless version is more, well, alien-looking. They could actually be creatures from outer space rather than humans with rubber foreheads. They’ve even got their own font (Trajan Pro Bold, if I’m not mistaken) for the English subtitles. Add to all this a new complexity of character that goes beyond the simple badass of previous Klingons, and you have a truly worthy adversary for the Federation.

It is in the characters on Discovery, moreover, that we find its clearest superiority over other Treks. Prior series had casts of characters whose personas remained essentially the same from episode to episode. With a few exceptions, each installment stood on its own, each time with the cast regulars placed in some new situation. I’m only a few episodes into Discovery, but already individual characters are evolving as the series progresses. A couple have even died. It’s more of a Game of Thrones miniseries approach to sci-fi. Episodes are not so much individual stories as chapters in an unfolding drama, and the roles are growing and changing as we watch. That’s new, too, and I like it.

There is something else that is new about these characters. Most are flawed and troubled — sometimes deeply. Past Star Trek personae have had their little hang-ups, of course, but nothing like these tortured souls. Michael Burnham, the Vulcan-trained Earther who is the series’ protagonist, set off a galactic war with the Klingons while killing her mentor in the process. Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, is kind of an asshole. Burnham’s love interest has some serious kinks of his own thanks to an abusive relationship…with a Klingon. And so on. They are all fighting on the side of good, I suppose, but battling their own demons at the same time. Those demons are among the engines that drive the show, and I prefer this space noir format to the old, two-dimensional band-of-heroes model.

Writing a show with this premise has got to be challenging, though. The number of variables that have to be accounted for every week would be daunting. Not only does some fresh scientific element have to be introduced and explained (or over-explained, as is sometimes the case), but the larger arc of the story has to be moved forward. The individual struggles of ever-changing characters have to be managed as well. On top of all that, the producers have decided to supply a credible cliff-hanger every week that is coherent within the larger arc of the series. With all these balls in the air, sometimes the stories can get a little thin. On the other hand, Star Trek — and science fiction in general — has never been known for phaser-proof plotting. As long as I get my aliens and some zippy science, I’m pretty much good.

In that last regard — the zippy science — Discovery is also making a better effort than its forbears. Two of the early episodes include a tardigrade, a normally microscopic space-dweller that weighs in on Discovery at half a ton. They explained why, but I sort of lost the thread. In one episode, they give a technical explanation for an invisibility cloak that borders on the plausible. In another, they accomplish near-instantaneous interstellar travel using…spores. Oh, yeah.

If you are a trekkie but still holding out on Discovery, I get it. It’s about the money, right? Then let me share with you some wisdom from Jean Luc Picard: “Money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Don’t you feel a little bit silly now?
Bee Wars
Once you get past any anti-insect prejudice you might have, it’s not hard to like bees. They are hard-working, loyal, and brave. You might even come to think of them as cute. Maybe not ladybug cute, but pretty darn lovable.

They will sting, of course, but unless you’re dealing with the Africanized variety, they’re not really looking for trouble. Stinging, after all, is a weapon they can only use once. They’re not likely to use it out of pettiness or pique. Only when they feel that the hive is threatened or their own safety is on the line will they go there. And even if they do, there’s no real danger beyond a small pain and an insignificant bump that might need to be scratched (unless you’re allergic, of course, in which case you could die — along with your attacker).

Practically everything else a bee does is good for us. The honey, the wax, the propolis, the pollinating — does any other animal provide as much benefit without having to die? Bees might be the most peaceful, productive, law-abiding citizens of planet earth. Who could imagine them doing anything bad?

Mass murder, for instance. Surely these adorable little creatures would never involved in anything like that. And they’re way too busy for terrorism or genocide or war. Right?

Well I used to feel the same way. That was before I saw them with my own eyes, plundering our own hive — the robber bees! They came in great numbers, stealing honey and anything else they could carry off. And there was killing, lots of it. No blood, of course, but but the ground below the main entrance was littered with legs, wings, antennae, and unattached thoraxes.

I can understand an invasion by ants or wasps or raccoons, but the idea of luftwaffes of bees raining death and destruction on their own kind just seems wrong. How does a community built on conscientious hard work and team play transform itself into a murderous, thieving horde? Certainly there is an alternate explanation.

One possibility, I suppose, is a queen gone mad. I could imagine all that power changing someone, even a bug. Or perhaps the pressure got to her, and she lost her grip. In either case, on a whim or as part of some demented design, she might have commanded her workers to wreak havoc on their neighbors. They’d have to do it, of course, because she is the goddam queen.

I can also envision a cabal of drones seizing control of the hive. You can guess how these guys must feel about their lives. Sure, they’re waited on hand and foot. Sure, they don’t have to work. And the sex is great. But it can’t be a very fulfilling existence. For one thing, you only have sex that one time, and when you’re done you die. Not working sounds great, but a man needs to step up and meet the world. Make his mark, count for something. I figure that must go for male bees as well.

And drones are big buzzers, too. Bigger than the queen, even. They could swing a coup if they worked together. And once they were in, you know the first thing these dudes would want to do is invade somebody. Cause that other hive has really been asking for it anyway.

So that could be it. Maybe. But honestly neither of these scenarios strikes me as very likely. Impossible as it may seem, honeybees are no less warlike than any other species. Their hive, with all its intricacy and organization, represents no more than a veneer of law and order. Given the opportunity, they’d conquer the world and rule with an iron stinger.

If only they weren’t so damn busy.
Waiting for Elon
Elon, dear Elon
When will it arrive?
Will you please tell me
When is my test drive?

You sent me a text
There’s been a delay
My Tesla is coming
But just not today

I longed for the X
I pined for the S
The 3 is more my speed
It costs a lot less

I believe in the future
(You wouldn’t have lied)
But it never gets here
Nor does my new ride

And where is that hyperloop?
I want flying cars!
Teleportation
And a mission to Mars!

Monorails, jetpacks
Androids and robots!
Love the computer, but
Is that all that you gots?

Elon, please hear me
How long must I wait?
My patience is fizzling
The future is late!
Hoot Couture
It’s hard to ignore fashion, even though I try. Everywhere, the forces of innovation are pushing the boundaries of clothing design, looking for the next big breakthrough. Those creations effect the environment that all of us live in, keeping it in constant flux. Even though I don’t personally practice the apparel arts myself, I endorse such efforts.

Let them have at it, I say. What people choose to wear is strictly their own business, and there are plenty of fashion mistakes that need to be cycled out of existence. My open, accepting attitude, however, does not prevent me from commenting on any cultural trend that violates standards of common sense, decency, or egregious butt-ugliness. It is under this exception that I address the ill-conceived shirt/thing called “Untuckit.”

I confess that I have never seen an Untuckit in real life. The TV commercials, most of them featuring the shirt’s creator Chris Riccobono, are so far the only place I have witnessed them. Mr. Riccobono testifies in the ads that his design is meant to fill a great void in mens’ clothing: the need for a shirt meant to be worn untucked. In fact, Chris reveals that this garment is the realization of his lifelong dream of solving this knotty riddle.

He shouldn’t have bothered. If you haven’t seen the ads or the in-person version, let me say that the shirts look dorky, dopey…even doofusy. Chris himself models them in the initial ad campaign, walking (as is apparently required these days in all advertising) in slow motion through the streets of New York. The slow motion, along with Chris’ own middle-aged pear shape, only heightens the impression of dorklitude.

His complaint about normal shirts — and the engine of his passion — is that they are too long to be worn untucked. But his, by contrast, is too short. Worse, most of the Untuckit examples are button-down, further compounding his folly with a useless trend that has somehow managed to hang on. It looks like a dickie with a hormone imbalance.

In any case, I could have told Mr. Riccobono that there are already plenty of no-tuck shirts on the market, all of them better-looking than his sad gear. The Hawaiian shirt, the camp shirt, and the bowling shirt are all good exemplars, and none of them comes with a button down collar. I wear mine regularly, and I see them worn on the street to good effect by other men. As I say, I have never seen an Untuckit in the wild. I see the ads, I browse the website, I watch revealing interviews of its creator online, but for all I know these garments are strictly a figment of the media.

I do not mean to say that the Untickit shirt is a stupid idea. No, wait a minute. I guess I am saying that. But I have no wish undermine Mr. Riccobono’s push toward fashion immortality. In fact, I applaud his daring and entrepreneurial drive. It’s his taste and godawful business sense that I quarrel with.

And maybe, just maybe, he will somehow succeed after all. Who knows? People might embrace this new getup and grant it a place in our ever-changing fashion firmament. Maybe. If not, I wish him a soft landing in his cataclysmic fall. If he survives, I hope he keeps at it. There’s always room in fashion for new ideas, especially stupid ones.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon