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Dead Etiquette
The walking dead are everywhere these days. They’re on TV. They’re down at the local cinema. For all we know, they might be walking among us. And that raises an important question about manners.

Ordinarily, if someone is determined to eat your brains, you don’t need to observe the courtesies expected in polite society. No one demands that we say “please,” or “thank you,” or “after you, I insist” to a zombie. Their willingness to crack open our skulls and gobble our gray matter clearly absolves us of such duties.

When it comes to appropriate terms of address, however, I think we should not be so quick to abandon etiquette. Proper greeting is a base-level sign of respect that is fundamental to our social order. And why should such rules apply to the undead, you ask?Well, as I understand the zombie phenomenon, any dead body can be reanimated and made to lurch around in search of other peoples’ thinkmeat. The person (or soul or life force or consciousness) who previously inhabited the body has (according to many) gone on to its reward. If that person has lead an exemplary life, so the story goes, he or she is welcomed into Heaven and invited to sing Hosannas for all eternity.

Such folks aren’t just good people, they’re saints. Doesn’t that entitle their remains to a certain level of respect? I think we have to say yes, if only to honor their memory and all the fine things they did and stood for while alive.

It’s tricky, though. We wouldn’t want to get caught, frozen, struggling to choose the most respectful way to address a saint, while the saint’s revivified carcass tries to eat you. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, dude, it’s a zombie! Just blow its head off with a 12-gauge and let God sort it out.” Okay fine, but what if it’s a Jesus zombie? What if he has rolled the stone away and come out as one of the living dead? What are your chances of getting into Heaven if you blow the head off the Son of God? All I am saying is that it never hurts to be polite.

So how does one address a saint, exactly? For instance, do I call Saint John the Baptist “Saint” or “Saint John” or just “John?” “Baptiste” has a nice flair to it, but none of these seems right. Sir or madam seem wrong, somehow, too. How about something appropriate to their station? Your eminence? Your grace? Reverend? Those seem too stilted — and might even be taken as a mocking jibe by an already agitated zombie.

As an alternative, I am suggesting the simple term “friend.” It is, after all, the highest honor we can grant to a fellow human being. It is intimate without being too familiar, welcoming without demanding anything in return. I can’t imagine anyone, living or undead, objecting to it as a proper term of address. I haven’t had the opportunity to field-test this greeting with an actual zombie, but I feel confident in recommending it as a respectful and polite greeting for anybody who meets one. As the being staggers toward you, hail it cheerily with a “What ho, good friend?” and see what happens.

If it still insists on eating your brains, there’s always the 12-gauge. At least you tried. That is all polite society expects.
We Are the Champions
I’ll admit it. I can’t drain the three from half court the way Steph Curry does. I might be able to heave it in once in a hundred tries, but not with such grace and ease — and certainly not with such regularity. There is no way I could pick the hot grounder in the style of Brandon Crawford, either, much less plant and throw in one smooth, powerful motion. I am not a professional athlete.

But I am a fan, and I can appreciate these feats. My sinews twitch sympathetically when I witness that kind of physical mastery. It is as if my muscles are dreaming of such acts themselves, imagining greater versions of something similar they might have done.

What’s more, I have never brought tens of thousands to their feet, roaring their approval for my on-field heroics. I’ve had my moments, but never that kind of acclaim. Such ovations are reserved for a special few.

I am fine with that. When I root for Steph Curry, I can feel his basketball wizardry as if it were my own. Through Brandon Crawford, I can exhilarate in the cheers as if I were on the field with my teammates, hoisting the World Series trophy in celebration. This is the single greatest benefit of sports fanhood — being a vicarious champion.

And even though I find myself drifting away from the brutality of football, I can still stand at the very peak of that sport. This week I shared that mythic moment with journeyman back-up QB Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. We rose to the moment with our against-all-odds, career-defining, MVP performance in the clutch. We basked together in the glow of victory. I have no bruises to show for my borrowed triumph, no gaudy ring, no winner’s purse. But I am fulfilled.

A paycheck? No thanks, I’m in it for the glory.
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?
Take This Blame and Shove It
Of all the spectator sports we watch or play, is there any less enjoyable, less satisfying than The Blame Game? It may be unique among all such pastimes in that there are no actual “fans,” as such, of the sport. We watch it with the same grim fascination we reserve for multi-car pileups on the Interstate. We just can’t tear our eyes away from the unfolding pageant of horror.

Other than that sick obsession, there is really no reason to watch. The play is always dirty, there are no rules to speak of, and there are no feats of individual skill or daring to admire. None of the players is worth rooting for, and we are all debased by our participation in the awful spectacle.

Worst of all, there is never a clear winner. No thrill of victory, no agony of defeat, no genuine human feeling of any kind. Just endless polling and punditry and egregious flapdoodling to fill our moments of idle dread. And yet, these contests are thought to have real world consequences, especially in the political realm. Although that proposition remains unproven, those of us who follow The Blame Game never doubt for a moment the solemn importance of this bloodsport.

The recent shutdown drama is a case in point. There was some light chatter about the human consequences of interrupting vital government services, but most of the energy was spent on divining who the winners and the losers would be. And was there some point to all of that? No… because no one could agree on what the score was. It was an utterly meaningless exercise.

It is past time that we do something to address this situation. We need an exact time when the clock runs out, — a moment when we can clearly discern who the winners and the losers are. Come to think of it, I don’t care that much about the winners. It’s the losers I want to know about. In other words, when all is said and done, who can I blame?

One thing I don’t want to hear is this lame pronouncement: “There’s plenty of blame to go round.” No, there isn’t. I want the name of the s.o.b. who screwed up and I want him to take all of the heat. I need a specific individual so that I’m not diluting my aggrievement by spreading it around. Who killed the Kennedys? Contrary to what the Rolling Stones might tell you, it was not you and me. Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan did it, and those are the guys I blame. That’s the kind of specificity I want. Names and stats — especially the final score. I want a head for that dunce cap, a neck for that noose.

But how do we make these determinations? Ordinarily, I would suggest a blue-ribbon commission for such a task, sober and considered people to weigh all the evidence. I fear, however, that we would be taking its members away from more important duties. So how about a red-ribbon commission? I’d settle for that. Red-ribbon commissioners probably wouldn’t be doing anything so vital that we couldn’t convene them as celebrity judges on The Blame Game. They’d be like a Supreme Court for blaming. The difference is that there are no money or rights or jail time on the line — just the reputations of the guilty parties.

Episode One of the Shutdown Blame Game has now come to an end. Surely there will be an Episode Two, but I’d rather not wait to start assigning blame. If our red-ribbon commission actually existed, we would have their verdict already. We could place the blame accordingly, get back to our lives, and resume our worry about things that actually matter. Wouldn’t that be nice?
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee