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Keep It Simple
As the young woman at the checkout counter begins sliding my items over the bar scanner, she glances up and asks, “How’s your day been?”

She’s at the end of her shift, and has probably asked that question hundreds of times today alone. Still, it’s a good question: engaging without demanding engagement. I am ready to engage, however, so I respond, “So far, so good.” If I’m ready to keep the chat going, I’ll add “Checking off the list, one by one,” and wait for the free-form portion of the chat to start…or not.

I cannot count how many times I have participated in that opening conversational gambit. It takes place at least once every time I go out on errands. In some ways, it is like the errands themselves: mostly disposable, nearly automatic, demanding neither intellectual nor emotional effort. It’s good to do errands, and it’s good to have pleasant interactions with your fellow humans.

I’m not going to suggest that such a mundane formula is the secret to a better world, but you could do worse. Imagine if we all just did the little jobs we know we’re supposed to do, and, while we’re at it, tried to be nice to the people we meet along the way. That might turn out to be a pretty good place to be.
Fair & Rainy
It has been suggested to me that these essays have tended to skew to the dark side. My gentle readers seem concerned that I might be dwelling too much on the vexing aspects of our world without giving hope and optimism their due.

Let me just say that I am touched by these expressions of care. Rest assured, all of you, that I am at heart a warm and fuzzy person. It’s just that I keep my fuzz closely shaven and my warmth set just a hair below room temperature.

But I love rainbows! Gosh, who doesn’t? When I see children’s depictions of these magical natural wonders, I am always filled with joy. Unless, of course, the colors are arrayed in an incorrect order. Red should be at the top of the rainbow, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Come on, people! It’s simple science.

Furthermore, the sun should never appear in the same frame with a rainbow (though, in a depressing number of these drawings, it does just that). For the rainbow effect to be even possible, the sun must be behind the viewer, with the water vapor in the sky refracting light back to the eye of the observer. It is only because I love rainbows so much that I demand that they be accurately portrayed.

Also, I think unicorns are adorable. So graceful, so lovely, so pink, so purple! But let’s be clear, kids…they do not exist! Flying horse-like creatures would defy the laws of physics that we all love. And if they did exist, that alarmingly sharp horn or antler or spear or whatever it is on their foreheads would have to be removed in the interest of public safety — and the welfare of the innocent little children who believe in them.

I want to be clear as well that I admire books and movies and other works of art that are life-affirming. We certainly do need more light and positivity and family-friendliness in this dreary world. Just don’t ask me to actually read these books or blow my twelve bucks on such films. I’ve had all the saccharin and aspartame and acesulfame potassium I can stomach in this lifetime. But please keep cranking out this dreck, because my beloved fellow humans seem hopelessly addicted to it.

Babies of any kind never fail to lift my spirits. I would be a cold person indeed if I were not charmed by their big, trusting eyes and their cuddliness. When they are not squalling, or soiling the furniture, or creating havoc in our lives, they can be irresistibly cute. Unless they are insects, that is. Or snakes, or fish, or germs, or anything too large or too small. Keep those things away from me, if you don’t mind. Kittens and puppies, however, are wonderful — if adequately deodorized and restrained.

You see? I am brimming with glad tidings. In fact, I have to have myself hosed down with Lysol on a regular basis.
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.
Homo Mean and Stupid
I was channel-surfing yesterday and came across Remember the Titans, a movie about racism and high school football. Denzel Washington plays the tough-love head coach who fights racism while building a winning team.

I like the movie — it’s a serious topic and the movie has a serious take on it — but I do have a quarrel with it. It’s overly harsh in its depictions of lowlife racists. They are all sneering, thin-lipped white people filled with molten hatred toward anyone with a non-pasty complexion. Mean and stupid seem to ooze from every pore, and every temple throbs with hate-fueled rage. It’s the kind of unfortunate stereotype we have come to associate with a history of forced inbreeding and God-fearing lovelessness.

This kind of “othering” is wrong. If we are to move on from racism and the internal divisions plaguing this country, we will have to bring along the lowlife racists on our march into a kinder, gentler future. After all, they are people, too. For the most part.

It should be noted that I speak here as a white guy whose own pastiness borders on the translucent. I am human, too…for the most part. I consider myself a proud homo sapiens, but I’ve got my share of Neanderthal DNA and maybe even a little homo erectus in there as well. After all, we’re all Africans here on planet Earth, even if some of us have evolved a Gollumish skin more suitable to a subterranean lifestyle.

People who are otherwise complected are still my brothers and sisters, and so are the lowlife racists. We all have common ancestors, and those connections are a lot more recent than we might think. So I think we should really try to stick together. — try to connect with our inner homo habilis and co-habitate as well as we can. That’s what Denzel’s Titans ended up doing, and everybody went home happy.

Except, that is, for a few of the lowlife racists. The ones for whom mean and stupid is a way of life…especially the mean part. In Titans, they just left the story, never to be seen again. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them here in the real world. They are fellow homo sapiens, after all...part of the human family.

But I’m not inviting them to Thanksgiving.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon